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Nabisco strikers in 5 states resist boss takeback drive

By Ilona Gersh
September 20, 2021
Chicago unionists, Nabisco strikers rally Sept. 4 to spread word about national labor battle.
Militant/Dan FeinChicago unionists, Nabisco strikers rally Sept. 4 to spread word about national labor battle.

CHICAGO — Chanting “What do we want? A contract!” and “No contract! No cookies,” 200 strikers, members of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 1, their supporters and fellow unionists rallied outside Nabisco’s flagship bakery here Sept. 4. The action was initiated by Chicago Jobs With Justice. At times honks of support from passing-by drivers on Kedzie Avenue drowned out speakers. Workers have been on the picket line 24/7 since the strike began Aug. 19.

Striking Bakery Workers union members at six plants in five states are determined to push back attacks on work schedules, seniority and overtime pay, increasing health insurance costs and cuts to pensions. Bosses are demanding 12-hour or longer shifts, with no overtime pay until after a 40-hour week, instead of after eight hours a day. They want to eliminate time-and-a-half pay for Saturdays and double time for Sundays, and use more temporary workers.

Workers at the bakery in Portland, Oregon, walked out Aug. 10. In the following days they were joined by workers at the company’s bakeries in Richmond, Virginia, and Chicago, and at distribution centers in Norcross, Georgia; Addison, Illinois; and Aurora, Colorado.

Elvira Sosa, a 27-year veteran at Nabisco’s Chicago plant, told this reporter that most of the lines are run by computers. They bag up to 70 bags of cookies a minute. “And we have to keep up with quality checks, computer entries on productivity, loading the line, and boxing and palletizing the product. Around 2005 these lines were automated. Many old-timers quit, and they weren’t replaced.

“Not too many people are trained on these lines,” she said. “If someone calls off, someone else has to work. Some of us had been working 16-hour shifts every other day for many weeks in a row. Overtime is mandatory.”

Sosa said there are a lot of repetitive-work injuries like carpal tunnel. “The lines are not set up for normal people. To set them up to run after a jam-up, sometimes you have to crawl on the floor under the machines.

“We used to have a nurse on duty for every shift,” she said. “Now we have none. Some of us have to use the Family and Medical Leave Act to get a little time off because we’re exhausted from the overtime. Then the company blames those workers for everyone else working so hard. They pit us against each other.”

“That’s why they need to hire more people,” Sosa said. “Overtime can be eliminated. We can all take vacations.”

“I came to the rally to give solidarity and support to our brothers and sisters,” Rich Leschina, a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers/Brotherhood of Teamsters who works for the Union Pacific Railroad, told the Militant. He described how bosses at rail companies are carrying through similar attacks on working conditions. “We have smaller crews too, to do the same amount of work,” he said.

Chicago strikers were joined at their rally by representatives of the Association of Flight Attendants and the Transport Workers Union, which also organizes flight attendants. Others participating were Communications Workers of America, Teamsters union, Service Employees International Union Healthcare, Painters union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Illinois Nurses Association, Workers United, Chicago Teachers Union, and the International Association of Machinists.

Donald Woods, president of Bakery Workers union Local 1, chaired the rally. “We are fighting for the workers of the world,” he said. “As long as the brothers and sisters stick together, we can win.”

Several thousand dollars was raised for the strike fund.

Georgia Nabisco workers rally


NORCROSS, Ga. — “We appreciate all the unions’ support and help on our picket line,” Edwin Martin told a crowd of 100 union members and others gathered outside the Nabisco warehouse Aug. 30 to back some 45 strikers from Bakery Workers union Local 42. Martin is Local 42’s chief steward.

Local 42 members walked off the job Aug. 23 to join fellow BCTGM strikers around the country. The Norcross strikers are appealing for help in staffing their round-the-clock picket lines, since they are a small group of workers.

“We’re fighting to maintain what we’ve fought for over the years,” Martin said, “so we can pass what we’ve won to the next generation of Nabisco workers.”

Members of at least 14 unions, including United Auto Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers, and International Association of Machinists, came to the rally, as did representatives of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council and the Georgia AFL-CIO.

Nabisco is owned by Mondelez, a Chicago-based food conglomerate that manufactures a wide variety of snacks and other products, from Oreo cookies to Ritz crackers and Hall’s cough drops and Trident chewing gum, with 79,000 employees worldwide.

After being told they were “essential” workers and forced by the bosses to put in massive amounts of overtime throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, workers are angered to be told that they are supposed to make major concessions in wages and working conditions for the next four years. The previous contract expired in May.

“The company stopped our health insurance Sept. 1,” Demetrius Byrd, 53, who has worked as a driver at the distribution center for eight years, told the Militant. “With COVID this is a big worry for union members and their families.” Bosses also told workers that any loans taken on their 401(k) retirement plans must be repaid immediately.

The company is trying to keep the Norcross depot open with scab labor brought in by shuttle from a hotel where they are being housed, fed and handsomely paid by Mondelez.

“We are holding strong,” said Byrd. “We want a contract we can vote for.”

The union is appealing for solidarity. They are asking other workers and unionists to join their picket lines, drop off donations of food and drinks, send letters of solidarity and spread the word about the strike. You can get more information at the union website Messages of support can be sent to: BCTGM Local 42, 1030 Dill Ave. SW, Atlanta, GA 30310 or BCTGM Local 1, 7310 W. 39th St., Lyons, IL 60534.