Frito-Lay Workers Officially Ended Their 20-Day Strike. Here's Why

Frito-Lay workers in Topeka, Kansas are back to work following a 20-day strike, according to Business Insider. The walkout began July 5 (via The New York Times) when about 600 workers (about 80% of the plant's full-time workforce, according to Mic) walked off the job to protest low wages and poor working conditions. 

Chief among the conditions under protest were "suicide shifts," described by NPR as forced overtime that leaves workers with as little as eight hours between shifts. Local 218 Chief Steward Paul Klemme's claimed that workers who clock in for a 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift are often forced to work four hours of overtime (until 7 p.m.), leaving them with just eight hours off before they have to return to begin a 3 a.m. shift the following morning. The forced overtime, according to Klemme, was the company's stopgap measure to avoid dealing with the larger issue of understaffing. The strike was also an effort to address wages that have not kept pace with the cost of living. Chief Steward Klemme told The New York Times that some workers had received hourly wage increases of only 20 to 40 cents in the last six to eight years. One long-time worker told Labor Notes his hourly wage had only increased by 77 cents in 12 years.

"Fifteen, 20 years ago Frito-Lay had a really good reputation," Monk Drapeaux-Stewart told the outlet, adding that with a high school diploma, workers used to be able expect good pay and good benefits. "But slowly all of that has been whittled away."

No more 'suicide' shifts

The road to the settlement was contentious. According to Mic, workers only voted to strike after a nine-month negotiation with management resulted in an initial offer of a 2% wage increase for the year and a 60-hour-a-week cap for workers. Less than two weeks into the 20-day strike, Frito-Lay told Food & Wine in an emailed statement: "While the union has suggested that Frito-Lay didn't meet its terms, Frito-Lay had agreed to the union's proposed economic terms. ... That the union membership rejected this fully recommended agreement suggests union leadership is out of touch with the sentiments of Frito-Lay employees. Because the union had fully recommended our tentative agreement, we do not anticipate any further negotiations with the union for the foreseeable future."

Apparently, management had a change of heart. Workers have agreed to return to the plant after reaching an agreement that calls for a 4% wage increase over two years, one day off every week, and an end to "suicide shifts" (via Business Insider).