Huzzah! It's Girl Scout Cookie season. And you know what that means: boxes upon boxes of delicious, endearingly named treats are yours for the ordering. What's your poision? Perhaps it's the Do-si-do, that flaky sandwich cookie filled with creamy peanut butter. Or is it the Savannah Smile, a zingy, lemon-flavored meltaway dusted with a delicate layer of snow-white confectioner's sugar? If you're like us, you're all over that Thin Mint, the classic chocolate-dipped cookie that somehow just tastes better when eaten in multiples of ten. But this year, the knowledge that your beloved snacks are being baked and packaged by a crew of overworked, exhausted factory laborers who can't take time off for fear of being fired just might make those cookies taste a little less sweet.
As reported by USA Today, employees at a factory in Louisville, Kentucky say they're being forced to work six- and seven-day weeks and pull ridiculously long shifts, and fear being fired if they speak out against these labor abuses. The factory, which produces not only Girl Scout cookies but a selection of other brands as well, churns out 2.5 million baked goods a day, and its 328 shift workers just can't keep up with demand.
"It feels like we're indentured servants," a worker, who chose to remain anonymous, told USA Today. The worker said she had been employed at the plant for decades, yet still only earns $16 per hour. "It's really gotten worse in the last year. They keep saying it will get better, but it never does," she said.
The problem stems from a federal labor law that allows managers to require overtime provided they pay time and a half for the extra hours. But the contract ratified between Kellogg Co., which operates the plant, and the workers' union defines overtime in too-vague terms.
"The company shall have the right to require employees to work reasonable amounts of overtime in their department," one clause reads, but fails to define how many hours count as "reasonable." In interviews, employees said the plant ran shifts on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and New Year's Day, and that they were afraid to decline to work lest they receive an "occurrence"—ten occurrences in a year results in a sacking, they said.
For its part, Kellogg maintains that employees worked an average of 52 hours per week in a recent period, 12 hours more than your average 9-to-5 but still manageable. The company "works hard" to avoid mandatory overtime, spokeswoman Kris Charles said.
Not as hard, presumably, as the plant's laborers are working.
"I don't know how much longer I can do it," one employee said.
Given that demand for Girl Scout Cookies has been exceedingly high this year—even leading to delays in fulfilling orders around the country—it makes sense that plant managers would need their employees to stay on the clock as long as possible. That may not give you pause when you order your personal pallet of Samoas, but it should at least make you a little bit more conscientious of how they got to your door.