By Ty Quass
24 hours equals a day. Seven days are in a week. 24 times seven equals 168. During the 20th century when labor unions were established in America, adults on both sides of the bargaining table reached a consensus that 40 hours was a reasonable amount of time for an employee to dedicate to their employer on a weekly basis. On a completely unrelated note, sleep experts reached a consensus that the average adult needed roughly eight hours of sleep each night. With seven days existing in a week, an adult who meets this recommendation will spend 56 hours a week sleeping, leaving 112 in which they’re awake. 56 hours of sleep plus 40 hours of work equals 96 hours out of 168. This leaves 72 hours, aka three days, for a person to live life on their own time. A full time worker in America spends more time at work or asleep than they do awake and off the clock. This doesn’t even factor in commute times and the time it takes to prepare for work at home. Household chores, familial obligations, and errands leave us with hardly any leisure time as it is. Still, the 40 hour work week isn’t terrible because it usually results in two days where the worker doesn’t have to punch a time clock. Eight hours a day and five days a week was deemed reasonable, along with benefits such as health insurance, a pension, and paid time off. The result was the birth of the Middle Class. Unfortunately, 40 hours a week just isn’t enough according to some employers. In the event where a wage earner is required or agrees to spend more than 40 hours at their employer, overtime pay of time-and-a-half is required by law for all time worked past the 40th hour. It’s a nice way to acknowledge the fact that the employee has worked beyond a reasonable amount of time. This money can also be nice for the employee, but too much overtime will tire even the biggest workaholic.
Now that we’ve established what was negotiated before most of my grandparents were born, let’s fast forward to what’s happening today with some of our favorite snack companies. First, Frito Lay workers in Kansas walked out because they were being required to work all seven days each week. Some workers worked 84 hours a week, with only eight hours between shifts (1). In retail, we call that a “clopen.” I’ve done that before, but the most I had ever been required to work was six days and 48 hours. The manager who scheduled us this way also granted time off requests anytime an employee wanted it, unless it was a major holiday or “Back to School” season. I cannot fathom working 84 hours in just one week. If you recall the last paragraph, there are 168 hours in a week, so that would be exactly half my week. I could understand doing it for one week and using that OT money for something fun, but these workers did it for weeks on end. According to Frito Lay, these numbers were exaggerated (see source number one again), but other sources included employee testimonies which were quite disturbing (2). For what it’s worth, some stores ran out of Frito Lay products during the strike, so the bosses had to get these people back to work so they themselves didn’t have to run the line. This strike was resolved around the end of July. Workers were all guaranteed at least one day off per week and I could go back to buying Doritos without being a scab. This made me happy because the store brand version wasn’t worth buying. Also, the union did its job, which is always nice.
In light of the recent scandal with Frito Lay, one would think other companies would wise up and improve their working conditions in order to avoid the same kind of PR issue. Apparently Nabisco, owned by Mondelez International, did not receive the memo. This means that while I can go back to enjoying Doritos, I am now resisting the urge to buy Nutter Butters. Workers from three bakeries and two sales distribution facilities have walked off the job, also citing work days which are too long. The company proposed eliminating the five day, 40 hour workweek, and instead replacing it with 12 hour shifts and three or four day workweeks. Overtime would be received after 40 hours, as required by law. Honestly, I think that sounds better than working five days a week, but I don’t work there. Either way, this sounds a lot better than Frito Lay. Still, these striking workers don’t want us buying Nabisco products while they’re striking. It would be a slap in their faces. It’s also important to recognize they’re not striking just because of the proposed schedule change. The company is also decreasing the quality of employee benefits, even though they’re making record profits. As the pie gets bigger, they want a piece which matches the company’s growth (3). This seems more than fair to me.
With so much going on in the world and so many workers being screwed, it’s damn near impossible to keep up with every company. I don’t know how it would even be plausible to boycott every company which mistreats their employees. The fact that it would be so hard because so many companies do this is a topic for another post. Also, you may be getting screwed by your employer and Oreos just happen to make your day a little better. I don’t expect you to boycott Nabisco like I am and I certainly don’t feel like I’m a better person for doing it. Still, ask yourself if an Oreo is really that good compared to your local bakery?