Audio Astra: Concerns for workers, unvaccinated patients, bird bureaucracy

July 23, 2021 3:33 am

Tony Gallegos’ sign shows a greedy Chester Cheetah — the mascot for the corn puff snack made by Frito-Lay — on the picket line in Topeka. Gallegos is a Sun Chips Frito process operator. (Noah Taborda/KansasReflector)

Audio Astra reviews recent audio reporting on Kansas news, including podcasts and radio stories. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

Listening to podcasts from around the state provides some unexpected connections from week to week and from one podcast to another. This week, those connections come between two audio reports highlighting workers rights, but also a connection between two bird-centric stories (one from last week’s Audio Astra). 

From the Kansas Reflector, this week’s episode takes us to the picket lines that are street side in Topeka near the Frito-Lay production facility. Along with that location comes the technical challenges of a rumbling road, making the audio quite difficult at times. 

We hear from workers, union leaders and even people visiting the picket line from out of state. Everyone interviewed by Noah Taborda is convinced that Frito-Lay should be paying workers higher wages and providing better working conditions. The working conditions they describe — brutal indoor temperatures and 80-hour weeks — provide ample motivation to strike. 

Each of us is encountering a version of this story in our everyday lives: the tensions between workers’ new-found leverage to demand better compensation and work conditions while businesses scramble to rehire employees following the pandemic. Perhaps it’s your local coffee joint that can’t hire enough help. Or maybe it’s your own business that is feeling upward wage pressure for workers. The unresolved question is whether workers have been underpaid for years and deserve an adjustment in wages, or whether higher wages are a phenomenon of enticing workers back to their jobs after the pandemic.

Regardless, the workers in Taborda’s report seem to have a legitimate grievance because of the small 20- to 40-cent wage increases they describe over years of work. Frito-Lay doesn’t respond to these allegations in the report and is only quoted from a letter.


Climate Change is a Workers’ Rights Issue
Up to Date, July 19, 2021

On one of Up To Date’s segments this week, host Steve Kratzke interviews two advocates for workers and combating climate change who explain the connection between rising temperatures and many work-related illnesses in workplaces.

They also at least briefly mention a connection to the Frito-Lay workers from the Reflector podcast: the extreme temperatures that workers allege occur inside of the Frito-Lay plant. While climate change most directly affects working conditions for outdoor workers, extreme temperatures for factory workers are another byproduct.

Rachel Jefferson, the executive director of Groundwork Northeast Revitalization Group, attacks what she calls the false narrative that jobs can’t be created while respecting the environment.  She says there is a lot more community education that needs to happen at the grassroots level to combat this narrative. Jefferson also uses the phrase “thoughtful urgency” to get across the idea that environmentalism is not about just relying on one quick fix but engaging with community members and communities to locate solutions.


Kansas City Health Department Not Looking to Mandate Masks as COVID Resurges
Up to Date, July 21, 2021

This is the episode nobody wanted to hear. In the spring, when we emerged from mask mandates and enjoyed freedoms created by vaccinations, we talked about “the end.” The pandemic’s intrusions on our everyday lives and its ravaging effect on infected Americans was behind us.

However, the tag team of the Delta variant and unvaccinated Americans prevented these sunny days from lasting very long. As both health experts on the podcast make clear, both sides of the state line in Kansas City are again in crisis.

What do we do with the frustration we feel at this moment? Striking an insistent interviewing pose here, host Steve Kraske demands an answer on a simple question: Why not require masks again? The non-answers he gets reveal how reluctant officials will be locally to again require masks. Recommend? Yes. Require? No.

I understand Kraske’s confusion. But my anguish most often pointed toward the millions of Americans who chose not to be vaccinated and, by doing so, delivered us into a crisis once again. Our daily lives — at school, at work, with friends — is about to get more complicated and dangerous thanks to their reluctance.


Listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken
Inside Ag From Kansas Farm Bureau, July 15

Birds remain in the news this week, following last week’s lighthearted KCUR segment about turkey vultures in Salina. This week, the “Inside Ag” podcast provides an interview with Clay Nichols, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, about the lesser prairie chicken and its consideration as a threatened species in Kansas. We get a nuanced view of the bureaucratic process that is underway. Will the lesser prairie chicken be officially “threatened” and, if so, how will Kansans convert land to be hospitable toward the recovery of the species?

Host Greg Doering asks about the steps necessary to make another threatened designation for the bird after a previous designation in 2014. What is missing and perhaps taken for granted by both the host and guest is a description of the lesser prairie chicken — its behaviors, its habitat and its ecological importance.

Rather than adversarial coverage of the issue, Nichols and Doering stay focused on the “background,” a word used constantly during the interview to signal their focus on the facts being considered. In explaining such a determination by a governmental agency, the interview does devolve into a bit of alphabet soup of those governmental agencies and references to arcane regulations. Those details at the tail-end of the interview, while useful to ranchers and farmers, are likely lost on the average listener.


Kansas City’s Olympians Include The Women’s Soccer Coach, A Trapshooter and Two Pole Vaulters
July 21, 2021

A brief spotlight here for this audio segment — and its expansive companion story — on the Olympic athletes from Kansas and Missouri. Their voices, agilely edited here, showcase their excitement about competing in Tokyo.

What did we miss? Email [email protected] to let us know of a Kansas-based audio program that would be interesting to Audio Astra readers.

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Eric Thomas
Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, a nonprofit that supports student journalism throughout the state. He also teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He lives in Leawood with his wife and two children.