The End of a Strike

July 26, 2021

What happens when you push workers too far.

One of the worst jobs I ever had was at a toy store during Christmas season. It wasn’t just the harried customers and the endless loop of inane Christmas songs (although, if I’m ever in possession of secrets that you want, just tie me to a chair and start playing “Christmas in Killarney,” and I’ll be screaming everything you want to know in two minutes). It was that, as Christmas approached, we never got a day off.

We put up with it because we were young and stupid, and because it was just for Christmas.

Well, it turns out that there are people in Topeka, Kansas, who have been putting up with it for a long time, until they just couldn’t any more.

Workers at a PepsiCo/Frito-Lay plant in Topeka, Kansas, just concluded a 20-day strike. They had been forced to work 12-hour shifts seven days a week. That’s bad enough, but the way it’s parceled out is worse. Frito-Lay demanded what the workers called “suicide shifts,” meaning, as one worker described it, that with minimal notification, they would work, say, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., then have to come back at 3 a.m. and work four more hours before the start of their next shift.

The ratified contract offers a comparatively meager 4% raise over two years, but it promises an end to suicide shifts, and one day off a week.

That bears repeating:

In the United States of America, in the twenty-first century, workers employed by a Fortune 500 corporation found it necessary to strike to get one guaranteed day off a week. That’s a disgrace.

I realize that labor is hard to find now, and that companies like PepsiCo are having to crank their production lines to meet demand, which necessarily puts strains on the workers. But there’s no excuse for treating human beings like machines that can be started up and stopped as needed. PepsiCo and all the rest of the industry: Do better.

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