microcosm of a national trend
The Pactiv factory in Kearny, New Jersey produced thousands of plastic containers every week. 100 Chinese and Latina women operated machines that molded the containers and then quickly packed the products into boxes. The temperature in the factory typically exceeded 100° F. The windows were closed. Some workers fainted from heat exhaustion. Workplace injuries began to pile up. The Pactiv factory was a sweatshop.
Pactiv is no outlier in today’s economy
Working people are increasingly under attack. The last ten years have been labeled as a “lost decade” for wage growth; meanwhile workers are more productive, working countless hours at a breakneck pace, but continue to see growing inequality between those at the top and those at the bottom.
- Between 1979 – 2008, incomes declined by 28.8% after inflation, for low income families and by 13.2% for families in the middle
- 38% of professional men and 23% of middle income men work over 50 hours per week
- 93% of all income gains in 2010 went to the top 1%.
- Many working parents have to choose between caring for their families and keeping their low-wage jobs.
- 94% of retail managers in one study said they preferred workers who could be available for all hours.
- Starbucks makes overtime mandatory upwards of 80 hours a week for full time employees.
- Walmart, the nation’s biggest private employer, forces employees to work all over the clock.
The Pactiv factory is a prime example of these simultaneous forces at work in today’s economy.
There is no shortage of work in this system, yet like the Pactiv workers, some grind out endless
days while others frantically try to put food on the table.
Common Thread-Mandatory OT
Overtime is no longer a bonus for those who want to make a little more each paycheck. It is increasingly a requirement for hourly and salaried employees alike and has major consequences in the lives of working people. Less time with family, less time to sleep, and less time to contribute to society outside of work are all detrimental to our well-being. Academics, worker advocates, and journalists have documented how overtime endangers the safety of the public. They cite how fewer working hours can improve workers’ health and safety, spread employment, and even benefit employers. They advocate work-sharing and flextime arrangements but too often these solutions to long work hours still leave the control of workers’ time in the hands of employers, administrators, or government bureaucrats. Workers need control of our own time.We need to see ourselves not just as individuals or as “un-employed” or as “employees” – we need to see ourselves as more than just these categories that divide us.
Take back control–Take a Stand at Pactiv
The fight at Pactiv did not end when the boss chucked those “troublemakers” out of the factory. In fact, it was only the beginning. If Pactiv is an example of the increasingly cruel universal reality facing working people in this country, it can also be the harbinger of a changing trend.
Pactiv workers are leading the charge and joining with other working people—service and office workers, students, mothers —who are fed up with the status quo. They are tired of the false promises of prosperity in exchange for forced overtime, workplace injuries and meager compensation. They are coming together despite language and cultural barriers, across trade or industry, and even across immigration status. We must unite as working people. Let’s start by holding Pactiv and parent company Reynolds accountable for promoting over-work in this country.