Strikers in five states take on Nabisco, win broad support

By John Hawkins
September 27, 2021

As we go to press …

The BCTGM announced Sept. 15 it had reached a tentative agreement with Nabisco. Union members will read, discuss and vote on the proposals in the coming days. Picketing at the six strike locations continues until a contract is approved.

CHICAGO — Spirits were high on the picket line across the street from the Nabisco bakery here Sept. 11 as members of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 1 waved picket signs and gave thumbs-up to motorists who passed by honking their horns in support.

“We have people from the neighborhood coming by, people from other unions coming by, showing their support,” Shirlon Selmer, a 37-year veteran in the bake shop, told the Militant. “We’re getting a steady stream of donations of food, water and other beverages.”

Strike supporters from at least 11 other unions joined a recent rally organized by Local 1, which is an amalgamated local representing workers in the Chicago area, Central Illinois, Iowa and Indiana.

Bakery Workers union members at six plants and distribution centers in five states are determined to push back attacks on work schedules, seniority and overtime pay, rising 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.

In 2018 Nabisco announced they were ending payments to the unionists’ pension plan.

After BCTGM members at the company’s factory in Portland, Oregon, walked out Aug. 10, they were followed over the next few days by fellow unionists at Nabisco’s bakeries in Richmond, Virginia, and Chicago, and at distribution centers in Norcross, Georgia; Addison, Illinois; and Aurora, Colorado. Nabisco is owned by international snack giant Mondelez.

Tanya Jenkins, a unionist in the bake shop for 27 years, explained that key to winning the strike is gaining more solidarity. “It’s hard being on strike,” she said. “People have bills to pay, medical expenses, mortgages. That’s why it hurts when some people cross the picket line and go back in there.”

Mondelez CEO Dirk Van de Put announced Sept. 9 that the company would resume negotiations with the union the following week.

Despite Van de Put bragging that Mondelez had increased inventories in preparation for the strike, the rate of undelivered orders has climbed to 7.1% from 5.3% prior to the walkout.

“What Van de Put didn’t say is that the company called us and asked to talk,” said Daniel Carpowicz, a 15-year veteran and chief shop steward.

Carpowicz explained that all of Nabisco’s BCTGM-organized plants work under the same contract. Representatives of all the locals will participate in the negotiations for a national agreement.

“We’re not coming into these negotiations with a bunch of wants,” Mike Burlingham, BCTGM Local 364 vice president and a worker at the Portland plant, told Forbes magazine. “We’re asking to maintain those benefits and Mondelez, their stance on it is, ‘Well, we weren’t there for that, we know nothing about it, this is what we want.’”

“I just read a quote from the striking coal miners in Alabama,” he said, referring to the strike by members of the United Mine Workers at the Warrior Met mine, “that applies to us. They said, ‘This isn’t just about us, that this is a fight for America’s working class.’”

Send messages of support and contributions to the strike fund to BCTGM Local 1, 7310 W. 39th St., Lyons, IL 60534.