Frito-Lay Workers Celebrate Successful Strike: 'We Definitely Have Leverage Right Now'

Workers at a Frito-Lay plant in Topeka, Kansas, agreed on Friday to end a strike that had dragged on for nearly three weeks over issues that had persisted for years, voting to ratify a contract that will increase their pay and give them additional time off.

With companies struggling to fill empty positions in the wake of the pandemic, and job postings at their highest levels since 2000, the workers were going into the negotiations from a strong position.

The more than 800 workers began striking earlier this month to protest working conditions and long hours. Representing them was the International President of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, which said that employees were "being forced to work seven days a week, up to 12 hours per shift," and have been required to work "double and triple shifts."

KCUR reported on Friday that the union had voted to approve the latest offer from the company. The two-year contract that employees ratified will give them 4% raises over the next two years and a guaranteed day off during each week.

The company also agreed that it will eliminate "squeeze shifts" and create "additional opportunities for the union to have input into staffing and overtime."

"We believe our approach to resolving this strikes demonstrates how we listen to our employees, and when concerns are raised, they are taken seriously and addressed," Frito-Lay said in a statement. "Looking ahead, we look forward to continuing to build on what we have accomplished together based on mutual trust and respect."

One worker at the plant, Brad Wiese, told KCUR other companies were trying to recruit employees at the Frito-Lay plant.

"We definitely have leverage right now," Chris Ware, an employee at the plant for nearly 20 years, told KCUR.

In an op-ed published in the Topeka Capital Journal earlier this month, Cherie Renfro, a Frito-Lay employee, said the "storm" at the company "had been brewing for years."

Renfro said the company gave lump sums payments instead raises, lowered pay for new hires and "supported an iron-fisted management that has created a toxic work environment."

She also alleged poor working conditions. "When a co-worker collapsed and died, you had us move the body and put in another co-worker to keep the line going," Renfro wrote. She said that in one incident, workers were forced to work "in dense smoke and fumes" following a fire.

Frito Lay has specifically denied these accusations. "We follow all OSHA guidelines and associates are never required to work in dense smoke or fumes following a fire," the company said in a statement.

The company also said that in two instances in the last five years when employees died at the plant, "work ceased until the associates were safely on the way to the hospital."

Frito-Lay workers end strike
Employees at a Frito-Lay plant in Kansas on Friday agreed to end a strike that had dragged on for nearly three weeks. Above, a stock photo of a factory. NanoStockk/Getty Images