Why hundreds of Frito-Lay workers have been striking

Why hundreds of Frito-Lay workers have been striking

Posted: Jul 24, 2021 2:51 PM
Updated: Jul 24, 2021 2:51 PM

Workers at the Frito-Lay plant in Topeka, Kansas, say it used to be one of the best jobs in town -- a place of shared meals, group outings and community.

In recent years, though, employees and union members say the facility where Doritos, Cheetos and Tostitos are made has become another toxic work environment.

Hundreds of Frito-Lay workers at the Topeka facility are in week three of a strike over what union leaders describe as long hours, forced overtime, stagnating wages and a diminished quality of life. It's the first strike at the plant in its decades of operation.

Members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 218 union have called on the snack food company to provide better working conditions and pay. Among their grievances are so-called "suicide shifts," in which employees work a full eight-hour day plus four hours of overtime with little turnaround time before the next shift.

"Workers do not have enough time to see their family, do chores around the house, run errands, or even get a healthy night's sleep," the union's international president Anthony Shelton said in a July 12 statement. "This strike is about working people having a voice in their futures and taking a stand for their families."

Frito-Lay, which is owned by PepsiCo, said in a statement that the claims about long hours were "grossly exaggerated." It also pointed to a contract offer it made prior to the strike that would cap overtime limits at 60 hours and end what it referred to as "squeeze shifts."

Corrina Christensen, communications director for the main Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union told CNN on Thursday that negotiations had concluded and that it would not comment further until after a vote by members. Frito-Lay did not address specific requests for comment by CNN, instead pointing to public statements released this week.

Workers feel they're being 'pushed to the edge'

As the nation continues to recover from the pandemic, PepsiCo recently reported quarterly earnings that surpassed Wall Street estimates -- Frito-Lay North America saw its organic revenue grow by 6%.

Workers at the Topeka plant, however, feel burned out.

Union leaders said in a podcast interview last week that they had asked management for years to address staffing shortages that resulted in forced overtime and long shifts, but that the issues were not adequately addressed.

"Before we walked out on the strike, they were 100 employees short already, which is where a lot of the overtime comes in," said Paul Klemme, chief steward of Local 218.

Mark McCarter, a Frito-Lay employee and union representative who has been working at the Topeka facility for more than three decades, told VICE that he makes $20.50 an hour despite his long career with the company and hasn't received a proper raise in 10 years.

"I think people are pushed to the edge," he told the outlet. "COVID created some of this. During COVID, managers got to work from home. People see that and realize they have other options. Everyone's hiring and raising their pay because no one wants to work for $8 an hour anymore."

Cherie Renfro, another worker at the facility, criticized Frito-Lay for giving bonuses instead of raises and accused the company of lowering wages for new employees. She also said workers did not receive hazard pay or other recognition for the risks they took throughout the pandemic.

"You have no problem paying for the drug tests, background checks, orientation and training for 350-plus employees that you hired and lost this past year," Renfro wrote in the Topeka Capital-Journal. "But you have a problem giving decent living wages to keep loyal employees, already trained, already here."

More than 800 workers are affected by the strike.

Where things stand

Union membership voted down a July 1 offer made by Frito-Lay before going on strike.

Negotiations resumed this week, and on Thursday, the two sides concluded their talks.

Frito-Lay said in a statement that the new offer "will better address employee concerns around guaranteed days off and create additional opportunities for the union to have input into staffing and overtime," adding that it would include across-the-board wage increases.

Christensen, the spokesperson for the main union, said members are currently voting on the contract and that results are expected late Friday.

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

Terre Haute
Partly Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 46°
Robinson
Cloudy
38° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 38°
Indianapolis
Clear
47° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 47°
Rockville
Clear
43° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 40°
Casey
Partly Cloudy
49° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 46°
Brazil
Clear
40° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 40°
Marshall
Partly Cloudy
40° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 40°
Clear, Chilly Overnight
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1671275

Reported Deaths: 27903
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook63319811182
DuPage1078031375
Will910281124
Lake797931082
Kane68211868
Winnebago40918559
Madison40014592
St. Clair36230595
McHenry34584326
Champaign26931196
Peoria26845368
Sangamon25682284
McLean22947217
Tazewell20601330
Rock Island18783360
Kankakee17848248
Kendall16162113
Macon15259250
LaSalle14983285
Vermilion14303199
Adams13097152
DeKalb12114133
Williamson12027174
Whiteside8265183
Jackson808394
Boone790483
Coles7857122
Ogle754587
Grundy735386
Franklin7317115
Knox7244169
Clinton7113102
Macoupin6927104
Marion6907143
Henry661677
Effingham658099
Jefferson6523143
Livingston596098
Stephenson580992
Woodford575292
Randolph553799
Christian531882
Fulton525875
Monroe5243103
Morgan505299
Logan494274
Montgomery489881
Lee478060
Bureau442190
Saline433169
Perry432375
Fayette429564
Iroquois419977
McDonough373460
Shelby345848
Jersey335153
Crawford331330
Lawrence330833
Douglas326237
Union305848
Wayne301762
White279333
Richland279057
Hancock273035
Cass265330
Clark265240
Pike263358
Clay258254
Edgar256749
Bond255625
Warren243665
Ford242859
Carroll236038
Moultrie231433
Johnson225131
Wabash217019
Jo Daviess215129
Massac214148
Mason212752
Washington211628
De Witt204930
Greene204840
Mercer203435
Piatt200914
Cumberland189526
Menard171913
Jasper161021
Marshall141221
Hamilton133622
Schuyler107010
Brown106410
Pulaski103811
Edwards103418
Stark81228
Gallatin7878
Alexander71712
Scott7136
Henderson69814
Calhoun6902
Hardin59816
Putnam5614
Pope5476
Unassigned1632433
Out of IL70

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 1000163

Reported Deaths: 16309
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1347632106
Lake660041156
Allen57441793
Hamilton46100461
St. Joseph44109607
Elkhart35696507
Vanderburgh32087477
Tippecanoe27796257
Johnson24902443
Hendricks23738354
Porter22802362
Madison18614404
Clark18424250
Vigo17347301
Monroe15180197
LaPorte15046250
Delaware14984259
Howard14626287
Kosciusko12217147
Hancock11630175
Bartholomew11505179
Warrick11255189
Floyd11013214
Wayne10897250
Grant9964218
Morgan9404176
Boone8863116
Dubois8227130
Dearborn817093
Henry8139151
Noble7984106
Marshall7838134
Cass7499119
Lawrence7403170
Shelby7138114
Jackson694088
Gibson6533113
Harrison644491
Huntington633999
Knox6273106
DeKalb626397
Montgomery6208109
Miami589797
Putnam575377
Clinton570271
Whitley560455
Steuben554675
Wabash5279101
Jasper524475
Jefferson506996
Ripley495685
Adams476073
Daviess4616113
Scott435869
Greene422096
Wells420987
Clay420260
White415962
Decatur4133101
Fayette404286
Jennings385160
Posey375343
LaGrange353978
Washington353249
Randolph341999
Spencer337342
Fountain332558
Sullivan326752
Starke313369
Owen312070
Fulton306567
Orange291762
Jay280445
Perry264752
Franklin264042
Carroll259132
Rush258832
Vermillion255454
Parke230026
Pike227943
Tipton226659
Blackford190540
Pulaski181855
Crawford158623
Newton156048
Benton150217
Brown144547
Martin137419
Switzerland134211
Warren120516
Union106815
Ohio84112
Unassigned0538