by Paul Garver
2013, BCTGM Members in Chicago Demonstrate Solidarity with Mondelez workers facing oppression in Egypt, Pakistan and Tunisia
You may have never heard of a global snack food conglomerate called Mondelez. You will be hearing more about it over the next few months.
Through a series of global mergers, Mondelez became the parent corporation of Nabisco (Oreos, Chip Ahoys, Ritz Crackers, etc.). Nabisco used to operate dozens of factories in the USA, but has closed all but five of them to improve corporate profit margins. Two factories in Monterrey and Salinas, Mexico, also produce for the U.S. market. I used to live across the street from a Nabisco factory producing crackers and appetizing smells in Pittsburgh. This factory closed down despite a long union and community struggle to keep its doors open through new ownership.
The remaining Nabisco industrial bakeries in the USA are located in Atlanta (GA), Richmond (VA), Fairlawn (NJ), Portland (OR), with its largest one located on the southwest side of Chicago (IL).
The huge multi-story Nabisco factory in Chicago has employed generations of workers. Currently it employs some 1200 workers, the large majority of whom are African-American or Hispanic, over forty years old, and with many decades of service to Nabisco.
Nabisco workers are members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), which for several decades had been able to negotiate decent collective bargaining agreements with previous owners of Nabisco.
Mondelez recently sent out pink slips laying off 277 union workers at the Chicago plant, first installment of the announced 600 layoffs. In advance of the national collective bargaining round that began this month (February 2016), the company demanded $46 million in annual concessions in perpetuity as the price of not moving four major production lines from Chicago to Salinas. The union calculated that would mean a 60% reduction in union wages and benefits in Chicago, and refused. Mondelez is now heavily investing at Salinas and the transfer of production to Salinas is now underway.
The BCTGM is trying to organize community and political support in Chicago to protect its members and their community. However the odds of success appear stacked against them. Job security has become the key issue in the national negotiations between Nabisco and the BCTGM, in which the company is also trying to eliminate the multi-employer BCTGM pension plan for all plants.
Leading the union negotiating team is former Chicago Nabisco worker Jethro Head, now an International Vice-President for the BCTGM. He points out that that the company introduced its bargaining position by blaming the workers and their union of hindering the global competitiveness of Mondelez, and thereby standing in the way of the necessary investments in efficiency.
Ominously Mondelez seems to be preparing for a long confrontation with the union.
According to a report in the US union-supported Northwest Labor Press (click here  to read), Mondelez has recruited strikebreakers in preparation for national bargaining with the IUF-affiliated BCTGM covering 5 Nabisco biscuit plants and three distribution centers.
Weeks before bargaining formally got underway on February 16, a company called Huffmaster Crisis Response, which provides replacement workers and security and describes itself as “the leading management of strike management solutions”, began posting online advertisements for experienced temporary workers “for a possible labor dispute that may occur on or about February 29, 2016.” That is the date on which the union agreements expire at the Nabisco sites. The advertisements do not mention Mondelez or Nabisco by name but seek to recruit workers in each of the five cities where the production plants are located.
According to the report, union representatives at the Nabisco bakery in Portland Oregon say that strike replacement workers have already been brought into the bakery to observe union members performing their jobs.
Through my previous work with the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF), I got to know the dedication and skill of Jethro Head and of BCTGM General President David Durkee. They will do whatever they can to effectively represent their union members in Chicago and the other Nabisco sites, even if this brings them into a collision course with the giant global snackfood corporation Mondelez. The BCTGM has always demonstrated solidarity with workers in other countries when called upon. The IUF has helped create a Mondelez International Union Solidarity Network that affirms the solidarity of its affiliates to provide mutual support for the BCTGM in this struggle. But solidarity and support to be effective will require strong labor and community support for the BCTGM Nabisco workers in Chicago, Portland, Atlanta, Richmond and Fairlawn.
We will cover this emerging story over the next weeks and months.