A lawmaker on what the Frito-Lay strike means for the future of work

  • Paul Constant is a writer at Civic Ventures and co-host of the “Fork economy“Podcast.
  • In his last article, he talks about the strikers at the Frito-Lay factory in Topeka, Kansas.
  • Workers will receive a gradual 4% pay rise, but income inequality within the company persists.

For three exciting weeks in July, the nation’s attention focused on strikers at a Frito-Lay factory in Topeka, Kansas.

Back in the days when major newspapers had full-time union journalists, strikes and worker actions dominated the news cycle more. But now that only six of the 25 largest American newspapers (and no American television or cable news channel) employ union journalists, it is rare to see coverage of union actions in the national media.

Jason Probst, Democratic member of the Kansas House of Representatives, explained the this week’s episode of “Pitchfork Economics” why he thinks the Frito-Lay strike has captured the nation’s attention so well.

“We started to learn how horrible the working conditions wereat the factory, Probst said. had to come back for another 12 hours. “

And all this work was compensated by terribly low wages. “There are employees who have been there for over 10 years without a substantial increase,” said Probst.

Probst believes the general public has shrunk from the “unreasonable working conditions” that Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo, demanded of its workers. “They understood that this was another example of workers somehow smashed into the ground,” he said.

The strike was also a worthy aberration in Kansas, one of the most anti-union states with notoriously bad so-called “right to work laws” that give employers almost total control over their workers. Probst admitted that in Kansas, “We don’t usually see an all-out strike like this.”

Richer American white-collar workers might not understand that it’s not as easy as getting up and leaving when working conditions become intolerable.

“I worked in production and manufacturing years ago, and what I take away was that they pay you just enough so you couldn’t find another job,” Probst said. “The nature of the job keeps you physically there for long periods of time, so you can’t even take time off to look for another job,” he added.

Not only did the strikers have to risk being left without pay for an indefinite period or even losing their jobs altogether, but “the first thing the company did” when the workers left work, Probst said, was ” to interrupt health – insurance benefits for all striking workers.

“The fact that they have been able to arm health insurance coverage for their employees who have decided to defend themselves demonstrates, in my eyes, that our employers have too much power,” said Probst. , calling this strike a clear indicator of why “health insurance must be separated from your employer”.

After three weeks of negotiations, the union voted to end the strike on July 23. Probst doesn’t have full details of the deal, but “it looks like the employees will get a 4% pay rise over the next two years, they’ll have at least one guaranteed day off every week, and they won’t. ‘will have more to work on these “suicide stations”, “he said.

The workers may have won, but this is not an end to Cinderella. Probst notes that Frito-Lay can still demand unlimited overtime from its workers with some superficial restrictions.

And that 4% salary increase is not going to do much to reduce income inequality within the company – Ramon Laguarta, CEO of PepsiCo, won about $ 21.5 million again last year, which is more than 460 times the median salary of PepsiCo workers.

But Probst sees reason to be optimistic. During the strike, he saw increased “consumer awareness”, with the general public calling for a boycott of Frito-Lay and Pepsi products for the duration of the strike, and passionate calls to support the general strike fund on the media. social.

And Probst also notes that in the current economic recovery, “employees are probably stronger than they have been for several years.”

Probst believes Topeka is at the forefront of growing worker dissatisfaction in America. “I think people have had enough. They are tired of giving their lives for substandard wages and sacrificing their quality of life so that someone else can make outsized profits,” he said. he declares.

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