Hundreds of Frito-Lay workers in Topeka, Kansas, are on strike, citing shocking work conditions including forced overtime and 84-hour workweeks brought on by a COVID-19 era surge. Now, as they picket in demand of fair working conditions, they’re asking consumers to join them by boycotting Frito-Lay products until their employers give in to their demands.
The stories from the Frito-Lay plant are harrowing, including stories of 12-hour shifts, seven days a week and just eight hours between shifts. Some workers say they haven’t had a day off in five months — including weekends. The union’s president Anthony Shelton told the Washington Post the conditions are taking a toll on the mental, physical and family health of the workers. “They are forcing the current workforce to work double and triple shifts,” Shelton said. “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.”
Mark McCarter, a 59-year-old Frito-Lay employee and 37-year veteran of the job told Vice that conditions deteriorated rapidly during the pandemic, nothing that one man died on the job and others have died by suicide over the years. “This is not a good job,” McCarter wrote. “At 7am, our warehouse is 100 degrees. We don’t have air conditioning. We have cooks in the kitchen on the fryers that are 130 or 140 degrees making chips and sweating like pigs. Meanwhile, the managers have A/C.”
He also included his plea for Americans to boycott Frito-Lay products and all PepsiCo products. Easier said than done, as PepsiCo is enormous, with a portfolio that includes the likes of Starbucks, Lipton and Tropicana, along with numerous snack brands like Quaker Oats, Sun Chips, Funyuns, Doritos and Lays.
Frito-Lay told the Post that it has told the strikers it will raise pay by four percent over the next two years and cap workweeks at 60 hours a week, saying that “we believe the strike unnecessarily puts our employees at risk of economic hardship, and we are focused on resolving this matter as expeditiously and fairly as possible.” As of this writing, the union says that’s not good enough and calling for an end to forced overtime.
The whole affair shines a broad light the stagnant wages of low-wage workers who have a little extra leverage in light of the pandemic to demand more from employers who’ve ignored the rising cost of living and the untenable conditions of their own warehouses, kitchens and shipping plants, The Frito-Lay strike is ongoing, but it does feel like a change is in the air as more and more companies are facing the reality the workers are no longer content to scrape by with unlivable wage for dehumanizing jobs.
Negotiations are set to resume this week.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's senior editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.