Frito-Lay workers end their 20-day strike after getting higher wages and a day off each week

Shelves fill with Frito-Lay chips in grocery store
Frito-Lay workers in Topeka, Kansas are striking. Photo by James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images
  • Frito-Lay workers ended their strike and reached a contract agreement over the weekend, the New York Times reported.
  • The workers had been striking over low wages, “squeeze shifts,” and mandated overtime.
  • The agreement comes as many Americans quit their jobs to seek out higher wages and better conditions.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A 20 day strike by 600 Frito-Lay workers in Topeka, Kansas has come to an end after workers negotiated a wage increase, a day off every week, and the end of what workers called “suicide shifts,” where employees get only an eight hour break between shifts.

The New York Times first reported on Saturday that workers and the company had reached an agreement and ratified a contract.

Workers had previously rejected a contract proposal in early July, Insider’s Mary Meisenzahl reported, with workers pushing back against low pay and mandated overtime, according to the Wichita Eagle. Under that proposal, workers would have received a 2% wage increase, according to Labor Notes.

Labor Notes reports that some workers were working 12 hour shifts for seven days in a row. The workers at that plant “make, package, and ship nearly every type of Frito-Lay snack,” according to Labor Notes, which includes Cheetos, Lays, and Doritos.

Now, according to a statement from Frito-Lay, workers at the Topeka plant will see “4% wage increases to employees in all job classifications over the two-year contract” – and at least one day off every week, along with the end of those “suicide shifts,” which the company calls “squeeze shifts.”

“We believe our approach to resolving this strike demonstrates how we listen to our employees, and when concerns are raised, they are taken seriously and addressed,” the company 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.”

Anthony Shelton, the international president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), said in a statement that the striking workers of Local 218 “have shown the world that union working people can stand up against the largest food companies in the world and claim victory for themselves, their families and their communities.”

According to the New York Times, hourly wages will now range from $US19.09 ($AU26) to $US38.40 ($AU52). Still, shop steward Paul Klemme told The Times that he had hoped wages could increase more, with the Times reporting that “some departments had not had an increase in hourly pay of more than 20 to 40 cents ($0.54) in the past six to eight years.”

The strike’s conclusion – and the workers’ increased wages and time off – comes amidst a broader labor reckoning. Workers have been quitting their jobs at record rates in the past few months. DataTrek Research compares how many job separations in a month came from quits; they call it the “take this job and shove it” indicator. It reached record highs in April, and still remained elevated in May.

In response, employers in traditionally low-wage sectors like leisure and hospitality have been raising wages at a breakneck pace, but they still remain low compared to other industries. Those lower wages might be contributing to employers’ difficulty finding workers.

“The large labor shortage and elevated quits rate also shows employers are not raising wages enough, which is constraining hiring,” Jessica Rabe, DataTrek’s cofounder, previously told Insider.

The contract also comes as President Joe Biden seeks to strengthen the power of labor unions in the country. In April, he formed a task force to help bolster union membership and worker organizing.

“While this victory will go down in the history books of the BCTGM, similar fights are happening across North America where union workers are standing up to employers and demanding respect on the job and a legitimate say over their working conditions,” Shelton said in his statement.