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Frito-Lay strike issues include 84-hour work weeks

A box-drop technician at the Topeka plant says his hourly pay has risen just 77 cents in the past dozen years.
This sits outside a Frito-Lay facility in Topeka, Kansas where hundreds of workers are walking...
This sits outside a Frito-Lay facility in Topeka, Kansas where hundreds of workers are walking picket lines demanding an end to mandatory overtime and 84-hour weeks induced by an increased appetite for snack food during the pandemic.(BCTGM UNION via CBS News)
Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 9:38 PM EDT
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(CBS News) - Hundreds of Frito-Lay workers are walking picket lines in Topeka, Kansas, demanding an end to mandatory overtime and 84-hour weeks induced by an increased appetite for snack food nationwide during the pandemic.

Many of the plant’s 800-plus workers toil seven days a week and up to 12 hours a shift, getting only eight hours between the end of the work day and the new one, according to the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 218.

A strike was called after workers at the plant voted against the company’s latest contract offer, which included a 2% wage hike this year and a 60-hour limit as to how many hours an employee could be forced to work.

“They are forcing the current workforce to work double and triple shifts. 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,” Anthony Shelton, the union’s international president, said in a statement.

The union has repeatedly asked the company to hire more workers, but management has rebuffed the request, Shelton added.

Plano, Texas-based Frito-Lay declined to answer questions, instead directing CBS MoneyWatch to a statement posted on its site Monday, the 15th day of the factory workers’ strike.

About 550 employees are participating in what is the first walkout at any Frito-Lay facility in three decades, with another 300 workers opting to continue working, the company said.

The convenience-foods business unit of PepsiCo dismissed allegations about work conditions at the plant as “grossly exaggerated.” Frito-Lay’s records “indicate 19 employees worked 84 hours in a given work week in 2021, and 16 of those as a result of employees volunteering for overtime and only 3 being required to work,” according to the company.

At one point, an employee collapsed on the line and died, with management directing workers to “move the body and put in another co-worker to keep the line going,” Cherie Renfro, a worker at the plant, wrote in a letter to Frito-Lay published in the Topeka Capital-Journal.

The company said it is aware of just two instances in the past five years in which workers had medical emergencies at the plant and subsequently died. “In both cases, medical attention was initially provided at the plant and work ceased until the associates were safely on the way to the hospital,” it stated.

77 cents in raises in 12 years

In addition to addressing staffing shortages at the plant, workers are calling for across-the-board pay hikes, with Monk Drapeaux-Stewart, a box-drop technician at the Topeka plant, telling Labor Notes that his hourly pay has risen just 77 cents in the past dozen years.

Hourly wages at the plant range from $18.35 to $36.91, Frito-Lay said.

The maker of Lays and Ruffles potato chips, Cheetos snacks and Fritos corn chips generated more than $4.2 billion in sales last year. The company employs about 60,000 people in North America and operates 30-plus manufacturing plants across the U.S. and Canada and more than 200 distribution centers.

The Topeka facility has been fined for incidents involving amputation and vehicle mishaps in recent years, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is probing a May accident involving a forklift.

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