Nabisco workers in five states are on strike over changes to work schedules and overtime being sought by the maker of Oreos, Ritz Crackers, Chips Ahoy! and other popular snack foods.
The walkout began on Aug. 10 at a biscuit bakery in Portland, Ore., and has since swelled to about 1,000 workers in Colorado, Virginia, Illinois, and, as of Monday, a distribution center in Georgia. They are represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), which earlier this summer was involved in a 19-day strike at a Frito-Lay plant in Kansas.
Nabisco’s Chicago-based parent, Mondelez International, continues to produce snacks with nonunion staff even though three of its four U.S. bakeries have been affected by the strike. Unionized workers in all five states are governed by a single contract that expired in May.
Keith Bragg, president of Richmond’s BCTGM local 358, says Nabisco is trying to squeeze more hours out of its staff at the same pay rate:
“They have introduced what’s called AWS, Alternative Work Schedule. So what they’ve done is actually changed the work shift from eight hours to twelve hours. Now, after eight hours, we get paid overtime for anything over eight. [With AWS], we’re working twelve hours, and they’re paying us the straight time,” said Bragg.
Richmond workers Terri Johnson and Angela Jones have also brought forth concerns over the commitment of Mondelez to the safety of their workers on the factory floor:
“We had a woman that fell off of her chair recently and broke her ankle. We didn’t have a nurse here, and the supervisor wouldn’t take her off the line. We’re treated like animals,” said Johnson.
“How are you supposed to make a family life work? How are you supposed to put dinner on the table? The math doesn’t add up,” said Jones.
“The minimum lifting is 50 pounds here. We don’t even have water fountains throughout the facility. This is a bakery, it can get to like 110 degrees [fahrenheit] in some areas- I mean piping, smoking hot. And you’re telling us that you want us to work twelve hours a day?” continued Johnson. Jones added, “How are you supposed to get your children from school working a 12 hour day?”
Like many of Nabisco’s workers, Bragg, Johnson and Jones also consider their retirement when they think of the concessions Nabisco has wrung from employees in recent years:
“In 2016, they took our pension, and gave us a 401(k) that’s like paying pennies on the dollar,” said Bragg. “With the 401(k), whatever I have when I retire, that’s what I have- when I run out, I run out. A pension– as long as I’m living, I have something that can take care of my family.”
“I don’t see retirement in my future. It’s kind of bleak,” said Jones.
“Will I have enough money to live the rest of my life? No. But I’ve given the majority of my life to this company,” said Johnson.
Donald Woods, president of BCTGM local #1 in Chicago, says the strike is being led by longtime workers there ― including some whose parents or grandparents worked at the Nabisco bakery in suburban Chicago― who are fed up with years of cost-cutting being carried out by a profitable multinational corporation.
Those concerns bubbled after the company sought financial concessions from an overworked, undercompensated workforce, he said.
“Our position is we’re understaffed,” Woods said. The company “wants to save every dime they can, and it just takes everything out of the workers. You’ve got the CEO who’s making 16 or 17 million a year in salary but you won’t pay into the pension fund?”
This is the first strike action at Nabisco in 52 years after a two month strike last shook the company in 1969. 74 year old Sharon Evans, a 53 year veteran of the Portland bakery, was just 22 years old and one year into the job at the time. Her dedication to fighting Mondelez’s maltreatment of workers has continued steadily since then:
“We want to be treated like we’re people instead of like slaves,” said Evans while sitting on the picket line.
You have been listening to the voices of Nabisco workers across the country striking against harsh working conditions and unfair contract concessions. Reporting for Labor Radio, I’m Sean Hagerup.
Image courtesy: Kristine Wook / UNSPLASH