On the Picket Line

Kansas: Frito-Lay strikers win community support

By John Studer
July 26, 2021

Over 600 members of Local 218 of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union, who went on strike at the Topeka, Kansas, Frito-Lay plant July 5, are winning widespread solidarity in the area.

The bosses there are notorious for the inhuman schedules, low pay and rotten working conditions they impose on workers. Frito-Lay is owned by the staunchly anti-union Pepsi-Cola Co. It’s the first time workers have gone on strike at the plant in nearly 50 years.

Workers have reported in the Topeka Capital-Journal how over years the bosses lowered wages for new hires, refused to give workers cost-of-living benefits and regularly force workers to work what they call the “suicide shift.” That means having to work four hours overtime after your eight-hour shift and then being ordered to return in eight hours to do it again and again. Failure to report means attendance points that quickly lead to being fired. Workers say they’ve had to sleep in their car to make it on time.

“Why can’t I get a day off?” Charles Taylor, who runs machines that make Doritos and Tostitos, said on KCUR Radio July 10. “We can’t even get one day off, how does that make sense? A machine shouldn’t be treated better than their employees.”

While union members don’t get any cost-of-living adjustments to help cope with rising prices, Local 218 President Brent Hall said, workers at other Topeka-area plants, like Goodyear, Mars Wrigley, Target and big warehouses do.

“Milk’s gone up. Meat has gone up. Everything has gone up,” Tracy Johnson, who’s worked at Frito-Lay for 30 years, told the station. “But our wages have stayed the same.”

The bosses say they intend to keep production going regardless of the strike and they don’t plan to participate in any negotiations.

A fund was started by 785 Magazine after the strike started, with a goal of raising over $24,000 by July 23 to cover strikers’ utility bills. Other area businesses, like the Brass Rail Tavern, Topeka’s oldest bar, are organizing a boycott of Frito-Lay and Pepsi products.

Workers told the Capital-Journal that people have been bringing food and water to the picket line, and Victoria’s Bar has brought tacos. “It’s great to see community members and other area unions coming together in solidarity,” striker Derek Johnson told the paper.

Send messages of support and donations to the relief fund at BCTGM Local 218, 1100 Admiral Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64106.