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Bakers pat on the buns makes for well-clad hamburgers

The Franz Bakery on Northeast 11th Avenue is clean, and fragrant with the scent of baking bread; the maple hardwood floors are dusted with flour and, not surprisingly on a late summer day, it's hot.

Baker Jennifer Kundert, 29, works on the bun line, where thousands of hamburger and hot dog buns are packaged. They get there via a web of overhead conveyors where the buns cool after baking.

A member of the Bakery & Confectionary Workers Union, Local 114, Kundert works a shift that starts at 4:30 a.m. and ends about 1 p.m.

She has worked at Franz for about 3 1/2 years. She's been in the bakery business for about a decade.

Kundert, who like her co-workers wears all white, is one of a notable minority of women among 175 bakers at Franz.

Doing her job means lifting heavy steel dollies onto a conveyor line, where they are stacked with plastic bakery trays filled with packages of buns. When the trays are stacked about 7 feet high, she wheels them to a holding area.

Outsiders are surprised that the bakery 'runs so fast,' Kundert says. 'It's very fast-paced and physical. Also, a lot of people are surprised that we work around the clock, work holidays and have split days off.'

Kundert and her husband, Joel, who works on the bread side of the bakery, don't have the same days off.

Workers' shifts can be extended if additional orders come in, increasing the number of 'doughs' Ñ 1,500-pound batches Ñ required to fill an order. If an order jumps from five doughs to eight, for example, the bakers, who make $11 to almost $19 an hour, stay late to fill the order.

Kundert likes her job. But, she says, 'Bakery work is hard on a family.

'If you really want a social life, this is not the industry.'

Ñ Jeanie Senior