Kentucky Fried Chicken workers walk out at an Alabama restaurant after six weeks of work without air conditioning

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On July 2, workers at a KFC in the rural North Alabama town of Hartsley went on strike after working for more than six weeks without air conditioning. The exit was led by the store’s general manager, Ta Edwards, who was promptly fired by restaurant operator Tasty Chick’n LLC. The remaining employees were forced back to work on July 5 after Tasty Chick’n falsely claimed to have repaired the restaurant’s air conditioning unit.

Tasty Chick’n LLC operates the KFC franchises on behalf of Tasty Brands, which is itself owned by private equity firm Triton Pacific Capital Partners. Tasty Brands is one of many companies that have benefited during the pandemic. Between the fourth quarters of 2020 and 2021, its adjusted income increased from $2.9 million to $3.4 million.

KFC in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Flickr / harry_nl)

The strike took place during a summer that saw record heat waves in many parts of the country. A week before the strike, 24-year-old UPS driver Esteban Chavez Jr. died of suspected heat stroke in Pasadena, California. Air temperatures have risen above the mid-1990s, and UPS trucks are not air conditioned. Workers at Hartselle KFC began showing alarming early symptoms of heat stroke prior to the strike, suggesting it may have actually saved lives.

The unit malfunctioned in mid-May as temperatures soared in Alabama. Edwards notified his immediate supervisor, COO Ernest Smith, of the flaw on May 16. An HVAC service repairer checked the unit and reported to Edwards that all three of the system’s compressors had stopped working. Smith assured Edwards that the compressors would be fixed within a week.

“That’s all I heard until two weeks ago,” said Edwards World Socialist Web Site. “Next week, next week, next week.”

As the nationwide heat wave subsided, temperatures in the kitchen soared to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. “There were some nights where I had to bring people home because they were so tired and so exhausted. People were about to faint and turn red. One of the kids stopped sweating, and I knew that was a sign of dehydration. I sent him home and told him to tell his parents what’s going on,” says Edwards.

As the weeks passed, the conditions became more and more unbearable. Edwards refused to discipline for not calling and not showing up. He asks, “Why would you want to come work in a 100-degree kitchen for ten dollars an hour?”

“Both coolers were off and the freezer was too,” Edwards said. premature coleslaw spoilage in overburdened coolers; Management directed Edwards to put her on ice so she could look good again and sell her anyway. Edwards refused.

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