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Frito-Lay Strike Settled

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Frito-Lay workers in Topeka have been on strike over their atrocious working conditions and long hours. The union won a small victory, getting some slight improvements. This is really something.

Hundreds of Frito-Lay employees ratified a contract on Saturday, ending a nearly three-week strike over forced overtime and long hours that many workers said had pushed them past the point of exhaustion, union officials said.

The agreement, which was ratified in a vote that one union official described as close, puts an end to what workers at the Frito-Lay plant in Topeka, Kan., call “suicide shifts” — back-to-back 12-hour shifts with only an eight-hour break in between.

“The outcome of this strike was a testament to the tenacity and grit of the Frito-Lay workers in Topeka,” Anthony Shelton, international president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, which represents the employees who are members of Local 218, said in a statement.

The workers in Local 218 said they went on strike because the company had refused to address their concerns about the shifts, which they said took away time with their families and did not even allow enough time to get a full night’s sleep.

Workers had said Frito-Lay could easily address the grueling shifts without hurting the company’s bottom line. Frito-Lay is a division of PepsiCo, which recently reported a huge jump in revenue in its drinks and snacks businesses.

Paul Klemme, a chief shop steward who has worked at the Topeka plant for nine years, said he had once worked three months straight without a day off.

“I missed a lot of time with my children when they were in high school because of the shift that I worked and the hours that I worked,” he said. “It’s physically draining.”

Mr. Klemme said the new contract guarantees one day off a week for workers, does away with forcing workers to takethe “suicide shifts” and increases wages. He declined to provide precise numbers because he said he was not authorized to give that information. Corrina Christensen, a spokeswoman for the international union, declined to provide additional details of the agreement or say how the membership voted.

In a statement, Frito-Lay said the new two-year contract includes a 4 percent wage increase for all job classifications and “additional opportunities for the union to have input into staffing and overtime.”

Oh well, a 4 percent raise over 2 years and an actual day off per week. How generous!

One worker was able to publish a letter about his experiences in Vice. It’s worth your time.

I’ve worked at the Frito-Lay factory in Topeka, Kansas since I was 19, straight out of high school. I’m a palletizer. I run huge robots that are probably 15 or 20 feet tall and they transport product that comes from the production floor that’s already been packaged—Fritos, Doritos, Tostitos, all the Cheetos. 

After 37 years, I still get forced to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Seven years ago, my wife passed away and I spent a lot of time in grief counseling, and I told the company, I don’t want to work 12 hours a day seven days a week. I ended up getting FMLA [Family Medical Leave Act unpaid leave], but they’re still having me do it sometimes. You come in at 7 a.m. and not only do you work eight hours, but when you get off at 3 p.m., they suicide (force you to work a double shift) you and have you come back at 3am. There’s 850 employees and it’s true for half or three quarters of them. 

This job wears you down, it tires you, and makes you mentally exhausted. It plays with your mind. Some of these guys who work 12 hours a day everyday are destroying their marriages. They’re destroying their families. My wife passed away and I don’t have a wife to go home to to say, ‘Hey babe I’m only working eight hours tomorrow,” but a lot of these guys come in with the understanding that they’ll be here for eight hours but then they got to call their wives and kids and say, “Guess what? It’s not eight hours. It’s 12 hours and then I have to go back to work at 3am.” 

Frito-Lay has been told they need to fix this but unfortunately, when they bring in new people, they force the same schedule on them and they quit.  Frito-Lay has waited so long to replace workers, and now Frito Lay has a horrible reputation in town so a lot of people won’t work here. 

Talk about making the old Knights of Labor slogan “Eight Hours for Work, Eight Hours for Sleep, Eight Hours for What You Will” relevant again.

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