Striking bakery workers win support in hard-fought battle

By Laura Garza
February 21, 2022
Striking members of BCTGM Local 37 in Los Angeles County have been on strike against Jon Donaire since Nov. 3. Unionists, supporters joined them Feb. 3 for rally in Boyle Heights.
Militant/Deborah LiatosStriking members of BCTGM Local 37 in Los Angeles County have been on strike against Jon Donaire since Nov. 3. Unionists, supporters joined them Feb. 3 for rally in Boyle Heights.

LOS ANGELES — “We’ve been on the picket line rain and shine,” striker Elvia Castillo told a rally here outside a Baskin-Robbins store in Boyle Heights Feb. 3. “When you have to wake up early to be on the line, you see ladies with 10, 20 years on the job there, fighting. Sometimes when you get stressed, just seeing them on the line makes you strong. We’re here to get justice!”

Some 175 members of Local 37 of the BCTGM — the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union — have been on strike since Nov. 3 at the Rich’s Jon Donaire Desserts factory in nearby Santa Fe Springs. They were joined at the rally by dozens of other union members, including rideshare drivers organized in the Mobile Workers Alliance, members of the Teamsters, Service Employees International Union, International Alliance of Stage Employees, Writers Guild, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and others.

The Jon Donaire bosses profit off producing ice cream cakes that are sold at major retailers, including Baskin-Robbins, Walmart, Costco and Cold Stone Creamery. Workers presented a letter to Baskin-Robbins asking them to contact Rich’s, Donaire’s parent company, demanding they treat their employees better and agree to a contract. Rallies at several sites around the region are planned.  The union is demanding $1 an hour raise per year over a three-year contract. Rich Products rakes in some $4 billion in sales annually, and the company’s chairman, Bob Rich Jr., has an estimated net worth of $4.6 billion.

Rodolfo Pinales, who has worked at the plant for four years, said they are also fighting for “respect for the workers, proper health care and a decent pension.” He said they’ve been subjected to a brutal speedup. Pinales places molds under a hose spurting ice cream, “and the ice cream never stops.” His production line has been sped up from 13 to 28 cakes a minute. On some lines it’s up to 38 a minute.

“Our hands and shoulders hurt. There are a lot of injuries,” he said. Workers have to work up to 12 hours a day.

Martha Montes said her hands are hurting, even though she hasn’t worked for three months because of being on strike. “I’m making the same as people with 15 or 20 years working there,” she said, adding if she didn’t fight it would be the same years from now. The workers make $17 to $18 an hour, and inflation is eating away at what they can buy.

“Thanks to the help we’ve gotten we’re still here, alone we couldn’t do it,” Montes said. She said the bosses are always pushing you, making it hard to do simple things, like going to the bathroom or actually taking the full 15 minute break you are entitled to.

Management has been calling people asking them to return, Miguel Perez said. “They say, ‘Just worry about yourself.’” Because of the length of the strike, workers are now beginning to receive unemployment, and that will be a help, he said. “The company said they would raise the cost of insurance for a family to $760 a month,” more than three times what they pay now. The workers are demanding insurance costs remain the same.

Perez also said the company has an onerous point system, where you can be fired after accumulating seven points. “It’s a punishment system,” he said. “Most of the people in the plant are women, and since women are the ones who usually take care of a child who gets sick or a family member, then if they get sick they have to come to work because they already took a day to take care of someone else.”

A Lyft driver said he joined the protest “to show support for co-workers. I see how unions give support. Without support from others we’re weaker, and with support we’re stronger.”

Word is getting around about the strike, with one local news station covering the rally at Baskin-Robbins, and the Los Angeles Times business section running a feature story on the fight titled, “At a subsidiary of a $4-billion corporation, these low-wage workers are striking for better pay.”

More workers are making a point to drop by the lines to show solidarity, like a group of International Alliance of Stage Employees who joined the pickets Jan. 29. They need support for their fight! Join the picket line, which is up 24/7 at 12805 Busch Place in Santa Fe Springs.