Frito-Lay worker claims assembly line forced to go on when colleague died

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A widely circulated letter from a striking worker at a Frito-Lay plant in Kansas includes the wild accusation that employees had to keep working even when someone dropped dead on the job.

“When a co-worker collapsed and died, you had us move the body and put in another co-worker to keep the line going,” Topeka plant employee Cherie Renfro wrote in the missive to the company, published in the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Renfro’s letter cited several examples she thought justified the strike, accusing “iron-fisted management” of creating a toxic workplace that includes an incident where workers were told to work during and after a fire despite “dense smoke.”

But the letter’s most attention-grabbing claim prompted Frito-Lay to respond in a statement posted to its website that noted in bold “Employees are Not Required to Continue Working if an Associate Requires Emergency Medical Attention.”

Frito-Lay wholly rejects the recent allegation as entirely false that an employee ‘collapsed and died’ and the company ‘moved the body and put in another co-worker to keep the line going,’” the statement, dated Sunday, said.

Cheri Renfro, the Frito-Lay employee who wrote the editorial describing the work conditions at the Topeka plant.Facebook

“We are aware of only two instances in the last five years in which an individual has experienced a medical emergency at the plant that unfortunately resulted in that individual passing away,” it added.

“In both cases, medical attention was initially provided at the plant and work ceased until the associates were safely on the way to the hospital.”

The company also disputed the fire claim, saying that during an August 2020 fire the “affected line” was shut down immediately as were other lines – and they remained down for 10 hours.

Workers at the Topeka plant have been complaining about low wages and incessant long hours as the company continues to churn out snacks during the coronavirus pandemic. The snack giant, owned by PepsiCo, remained busy as many people loaded up on snacks during the pandemic, reports stated.

Among labor complaints were 12-hour days and so-called “squeeze shifts” where workers only get a few hours in between shifts. But Renfro’s letter included more than typical labor complaints.

One co-worker’s father died during the COVID-19 pandemic, she claimed.

“You told her since there wasn’t a funeral she didn’t qualify for bereavement time,” Rendro said. “She had to take off two of her own days to grieve.”

A sign protesting low wages at the Frito-Lay plant in Topeka, Kansas on July 13, 2021.Evert Nelson/The Capital-Journal via AP

Workers launched the strike on July 5 after the company made a new, two-year contract offer to the labor union, Bakery Confectionery Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 218, the company stated on its website.

The union voted 353-30 to go on strike, the Capital-Journal reported. They had been working under the terms of the previous contract that expired last September, the newspaper stated.

The workers at the Topeka Frito-Lay plant have been on strike since July 5, 2021.Evert Nelson/The Capital-Journal via AP

There are 850 factory and warehouse employees part of the striking union, but 300 are continuing to work, the company said in its statement.

Workers are paid $18.35 to $36.91 per hour, according to the statement. The company’s proposed contract offer would cap required work at 60 hours a week and ended squeeze shifts, Frito-Lay stated.

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