We observed something different this past month as the Frito-Lay Corp. and workers agreed on a contract at the Topeka facility. The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union Local 218 were out on strike for over three weeks. At the center of these failed talks were wage increases and forced overtime with no time off. The members there hadn’t received an increase in over 10 years. We have witnessed in past contracts between Frito-Lay and its workers that the union members would have informational pickets and the membership would approve the agreement and it was back to work with the same issues. However, this time was different. It was as if a sleeping giant was waking up, and the members had had enough. They voted a contract offer down. Many of the members who had been working at Frito-Lay for 10-plus years said they were fed up with the unbearable work schedules that included 70-80 hours per week with no time off, and no family time.
We witnessed what is the heart of all unions across the country. SOLIDARITY! Local 218 members coming together, standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the picket line. When a union stands together, they gain strength in negotiations, with a stronger voice at the table. The company will treat their workers with dignity and respect and remove the proverbial foot off their employees’ necks. We are proud and admire the courage of these workers risking all that they hold most valuable — their family’s well-being. Think beyond lost wages and possible permanent job loss. Think health insurance and retirement, the future of their family unit and the unknown. Wage and hour workers who depend on a paycheck every week are never too far from being homeless with job loss.
Local 218 is not affiliated with the Kansas AFL-CIO but their injustice is an injustice to all of us. We saw many other unions from across the state standing with the workers, and we spoke out about the injustice being done to the workers across the region and the state. The Topeka community came in support of the workers. Indeed, support came from all over the state and the country. The Topeka Capital-Journal, Wichita Eagle and many other news agencies like CNN, Newsweek, the Washington Post and the New York Times all reported about what was happening to the workers in Topeka. Pressure was building against the company to negotiate fairly. More and more stories were being leaked about the work environment.