“We are emptying their shelves”: Nabisco workers’ five-week strike won by shutting down the company as usual

CHICAGO – With his shift over on the strike line, James Walsh lingers on the sidewalk waving his picket sign amid a deafening din of truckers and drivers passing horns in support.

I think we have a chance, ”Walsh said last week. We are emptying their shelves, ”he added optimistically.

Almost four decades ago, Walsh went to work in what was once the world’s largest bakery, Nabisco (now a subsidiary of MondelÄ“z International). He was just a teenager when he got the job, which also earned him a life of something that has all but disappeared across the country – union work with good pay and good benefits. Indeed, his union – the International Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers Union (BCTGM) – has risen to the challenge of retaining these benefits.

A five-week strike of 1,000 union membership in MondelÄ“z ended with workers’ approval of a new four-year contract on Saturday September 18.

Victory is huge ”according to Donald Woods, president of BCTGM Local 1 in Chicago and one of the union negotiators. The union wanted to keep what we had – we didn’t lose anything, ”he says. He adds that from the 893 workers who voted nationally, alone 201 were against the deal.

Instead of the company’s request for rotation 12One-hour and three- to four-day shifts for workers at high-demand sites, MondelÄ“z agreed to create weekend shifts, solving the company’s need to meet the demand. demand for production, said Woods. More importantly, the schedule allows workers to keep their overtime hours for holidays and weekends – benefits that would have vanished with three-day shifts. If current workers don’t volunteer for weekend shifts, the company will hire new employees, Woods says.

MondelÄ“z also lost his offer to require new hires to pay a share of their health care costs, Woods said. (MondelÄ“z is currently paying 95% of union members’ health coverage.) As only the second strike in the union’s history of relations with MondelÄ“z, Woods hopes the company has learned a lesson. My experience with the company, [when it] going through a labor dispute, they just don’t want to start over, ”adds Woods.

Without a doubt, the moment marks a comeback for BCTGM. MondelÄ“z has given the union a painful beating for the past five years – from 2016, when MondelÄ“z started moving jobs from Chicago to a new factory in Salinas, Mexico, then cut his pension plan in favor of a 401(k), claiming that the union’s failed multi-employer pension scheme was on the verge of collapse. (Earlier this year, Congress voted to stabilize a large number of struggling multi-employer plans.)

The BCTGM attempted to retaliate with a boycott and unionization campaign at the Mondelēz plant in Mexico, with the aim of overthrowing the pro-industry union run by the company. But the efforts were in vain.

Meanwhile, Mondelēz sales, stock price and earnings have increased.

But this new showdown reminds unions that strikes do work – despite the worrying national drop in the number of major labor disputes (involving 1,000 workers or more) in 2020, which fell to just eight, the third lowest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking in 1947.

It’s also proof that strikes work better when an employer can’t do business as usual – a lesson also illustrated by the Teamsters’ victory with UPS in 1997.

It is also a lesson in the value of community solidarity with work. BCTGM officials in Chicago and elsewhere have benefited from the support of other unions to observe their picket lines and introduce themselves. The strike struck a wider audience, garnering media coverage and support from non-union groups. For example, players from the Portland Thorns, which are part of the National Women’s Soccer League, showed up on the Nabisco picket line in Portland.

Significantly enough, the strike reveals the corrosive energy that is given off when a workforce feels downcast. Despite assurances from the global giant about the limits of its contractual requirements, Walsh and others on the picket line had little confidence that Mondelēz would keep their word. They want more and more of it, and finally it just got old, ”Walsh told me on a scorching afternoon, a strong wind carrying the sweet smell of cooking from the plant.

James Harris’s argument and mistrust of the company is straightforward – it was forced hours and overtime. A mixer at the factory with 17 years of work, Harris, 52, calculated that it raises 7,000 pounds in eight hours, working in the heat sometimes more 100 degrees. They force you almost every day and they harass you even more, ”he scowled at me in the shade near the picket line. When you leave the house you better make a big lunch because you don’t know when you come home.

Mondelēz can force workers to put 16shifts, but the new weekend shift avoids the need for consecutive overtime on weekends, according to Woods.

A major fear in the minds of the strikers was that MondelÄ“z would continue to move more jobs to Mexico, a situation which MondelÄ“z said would not happen this time around. But long-term plant closures in New Jersey and Georgia this year 1,000 jobs – with the closure of several factories over the past decade, is still of great concern. The number of union members in MondelÄ“z has dropped dramatically from 2,000 members in 2016 To 1,000 members today.

Overall, the number of BCTGM members increased from 117,000 in 2001 To 60,000 through 2021.

MondelÄ“z’s efforts to reduce its labor costs also did not please the strikers, who saw the company’s finances do rather well throughout the pandemic. The company’s net profit for the first six months of the year increased by nearly 60% more 2020 Numbers. MondelÄ“z CEO Dirk Van de Put also received $16.8 million euros in total compensation in 2020, a 12% increase since 2018. This gives him 544 times the median salary of a MondelÄ“z worker.

The work disruptions were somewhat surprising as Mondelēz officials appeared confident, saying they had contingency plans in hand for a strike and that production had only declined slightly as the strike lengthened. . The company quickly hired the Huffmaster Company to keep its factories and hire scabs to run the facilities, and canceled health care coverage for striking workers.

Defending his proposal, Mondelēz had also spoken extensively about changing contractual arrangements made decades ago. This did not suit Jared Cummings, a bakery union organizer from Albany, NY, sent to help the Chicago strikers.

Lots of manufacturers lately are trying to undo a lot of the gains that Labor has made for decades, ”Cummings said. And if they push this agenda forward, who is the next generation that comes to work in these facilities? “

When asked why the union hired the company now instead of 2016– when he suffered a major confrontation with MondelÄ“z – Woods echoed the mood on the picket line.

It was, Enough is enough, ”says Woods. “[The workers thought] if they didn’t get up now, they would be working for minimum wage. So they had to get up and fight.

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