Some 800 workers at the PepsiCo-owned Frito-Lay plant in Topeka, Kansas, went on strike July 5. Members of Local 218 of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union are fighting for a pay raise, better conditions and against forced overtime. They’ve been joined by other area unionists in three monthly pickets outside the plant since March.
The unionists June 26 voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. Several days later the workers voted to reject a tentative contract reached by the company and union officials.
In previous contracts workers got one-time bonuses instead of a wage raise. “The cost of living keeps going up and our pay isn’t going up,” Brent Hall, who makes chips at the plant, told KSNT-TV.
“You have to wait until the end of the day to find out if you can get days off or if you’re working four hours over or having to come in four hours earlier,” Cody Linam, a packaging machine operator, told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “I don’t think that’s right.”
“Suicide shift” is the name workers give a schedule with only an eight-hour break between 12-hour shifts. If workers turn down an overtime shift they are docked attendance points. Some have slept in their cars between shifts rather than go home, Linam said.
Frito-Lay bosses are notorious across the country for their anti-union stance. Less than 20% of the company is union-organized today. The strike is the first walkout since workers organized a union at the plant in 1973.