Hundreds of union employees at three U.S. Nabisco bakeries that make Oreo and Chips Ahoy cookies and Ritz Crackers have gone on strike to protest proposed changes amid contract negotiations with parent company Mondelez International, Inc.
Approximately 200 workers at a factory in Portland, Oregon, have been on strike for two weeks and were joined on Monday by about 400 employees at Nabisco's bakery in Richmond, Virginia. On Thursday, workers at Nabisco's bakery in Chicago also walked off the job to go on strike.
Employees at a sales distribution center in Aurora, Colorado, also joined the strike on Aug. 12. All of the workers on strike are members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union, which announced the Chicago strike on Thursday.
"This fight is about maintaining what we already have," Mike Burlingham, vice president of BCTGM Local 364 in Portland, told TODAY Food. "During the pandemic, we all were putting in a lot of hours, demand was higher, people were at home, and the snack food industry did phenomenally well.
"Mondelez made record profits and they want to thank us by closing two of the U.S. bakeries (last month) and telling the rest of us we have to take concessions, what kind of thanks is that? We make them a lot of money. It's very disheartening. How is that supposed to make us feel?"
The union is in the midst of negotiating a new four-year contract with Mondelez after the previous one expired in May.
Union leaders say that Mondelez has proposed switching from eight-hour shifts, five days a week, to 12-hour shifts, three or four days a week, without overtime, and with increased mandatory work on weekends without extra pay.
The strikes are not expected to disrupt production of Oreos, Chips Ahoy and other products made by the facilities, Mondelez spokesperson Laurie Guzzinati told TODAY. Another plant in Naperville, Illinois, that makes Triscuit crackers is operational, according to Guzzinati.
"As soon as we got word that there were local strikes, we activated continuity plans," she said. "Consumers will continue to get the cookies and crackers they know and love. The leadership team and salaried employees are continuing to focus on operations."
Burlingham disputed that there has been no disruption in production of Oreos.
"It's stopped," he said. "I'm standing outside the facility right now, and nothing is coming out of a single smoke stack. You can smell when they're baking something, and I don't smell a thing."
However, Burlingham added that replacement workers have been bused into the plant.
Union representatives in Richmond said on Wednesday that no cookies were being made at that facility, either.
“The lines require skilled labor and they just can’t run those lines without our union members in there,” BCTGM Local 358 president Keith Bragg told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Union leaders have also said the proposal by Mondelez includes different health care plans that would keep the status quo for existing employees and be more expensive for new hires, potentially creating a rift between the two types of employees. The new plan would have a deductible, which the existing plan does not have.
"We call that eating our young and that's not something we do," Burlingham said. "What's a benefit to one is a benefit to all. If one of my kids comes to work here one day, I don't want to tell him I voted to keep something to benefit me and not him."
Guzzinati said the proposed health care plans for new employees is the same "generous plan" that BCTGM approved for its workers at the facility in Naperville.
The alternative work schedules would only affect workers on a small number of high-demand production lines and would not affect overtime pay for a majority of workers, according to Guzzinati. She added that the intention is "to encourage the right behaviors, and if you're assigned to shifts, you're working those shifts."
Burlingham believes the proposal leaves the door open for all employees to be switched from 8- to 12-hour shifts.
"What's to stop them from calling every single line a high-demand line?" Burlingham said.
"Our goal has been — and continues to be — to bargain in good faith with the BCTGM leadership across our U.S. bakeries and sales distribution facilities to reach new contracts that continue to provide our employees with good wages and competitive benefits, including quality, affordable healthcare, and company-sponsored Enhanced Thrift Investment 401(k) Plan, while also taking steps to modernize some contract aspects which were written several decades ago," Mondelez said in a detailed statement.
The strikes at the three locations come after Nabisco shut down long-running factories in Atlanta and Fair Lawn, New Jersey, last month after announcing the closures in February.
Mondelez also eliminated pensions in 2018 and switched workers to 401(k) plans.
BCTGM International President Anthony Shelton accused Mondelez in a statement of moving jobs to Mexico with the recent closures.
"Nabisco’s response to these loyal, hardworking employees has been to close two more bakeries in Fairlawn, NJ and Atlanta, GA, ship 1,000 more good, middle-class jobs to Mexico and demand major contract concessions from the workers," he said. "Nabisco is making record profits but still this company wants to squeeze more out of its workers."
Guzzinati said the claim that Mondelez moved those jobs to Mexico is not true.
"Our commitment to the U.S and the U.S. supply chain is very strong," she said. "To say that a thousand jobs went to Mexico after the closure of the two bakeries is inaccurate. We remain committed to robust manufacturing here, and our focus now is working through to bring a resolution to these negotiations with workers."
Mondelez reported a 12.4% increase in net revenue in the second quarter of this year and shares of their stock rose 6% in 2020 as snack sales jumped with millions of Americans at home during the pandemic.
The Nabisco strikes come just weeks after workers at a Frito-Lay facility in Kansas went on strike for nearly three weeks to fight against back-to-back 12-hour shifts with only an eight-hour break in between. The workers, who are also represented by the BCTGM, ratified an agreement that put an end to the so-called "suicide shifts" last month, according to The New York Times.
CORRECTION (Aug. 20, 2021, 10:10 a.m. ET): The headline and subheading on a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that workers at all of Nabisco's U.S. bakeries are on strike. There is a facility Naperville, Illinois, that produces Triscuits whose workers are not part of the strike as of Aug. 20. The company considers the facility to be one of its four official bakeries in the U.S.