Chicago bakery workers bring solidarity to Iowa strikers

By Ilona Gersh
October 3, 2022

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — “These checks are for contributions by workers at two Alpha Baking plants in Chicago. We took up a collection because your strike is so important to defend the gains we have won over the years,” said Beth Zavala, financial secretary-treasurer and business agent of Local 1 of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union, as she handed them to Ryan Hocke, financial secretary of Local 100G of the BCTGM. The local has been on strike since Aug. 1.

Zavala introduced me to Hocke. I’m a worker at Alpha Bakery’s Polk Street plant who initiated the collection. The two of us drove the four-hour trip Sept. 9 to deliver the checks and take part in the picket line. Zavala called the local president on the way there, and he said to take the donations to the picket line.

For a week union stewards at the Polk Street plant collected $526. Local 100G fact sheets about the strike were put on tables in lunchrooms, and stewards talked to workers and took donations. It provoked a lot of discussion about why solidarity is needed to build a strong labor movement to stop the attacks from corporations that want to squeeze more profits out of working people.

This was so successful that Zavala suggested to stewards at the Lyndale Street plant that they raise funds too. They collected $390. “We’re going to report on this at our next executive board meeting, and hopefully more donations from other plants will soon be on their way here,” she said.

The 20 people on the picket line were happy to see supporters from Chicago. The strikers have won wide support from other unions. “People in the neighborhood drop off water and other supplies for us, and sometimes join the picket line,” said Ray Taber, vice president of the local. A Teamster truck in the parking lot across the street stores donations and supplies for the strikers.

Jim Kersten, a Local 100G trustee, said that the rail unions, which deliver corn to the Ingredion plant and transport products made there to other locations, support the strike. “The engineers refuse to drive the trains into the plant,” he said. “They stop outside, and Ingredion had to hire a scab outfit named Railserve to move the trains in.

“The company wanted us to go on strike. They want to get rid of the union,” Taber said. “The scabs were bumping into us as we walked out of the plant.” He said that production was way down. “Ingredion is pumping money into its scab operation. They offered Ingredion salaried employees from around the country $2,400 a week and extra vacation time if they worked six weeks here.”

The union has three tents set up between the truck entrance and exit on First Street. They picket in front of trucks coming in and out to slow them down. Then they cross the street to slow them down again as they turn. Drivers passing by honk their horns and shout encouragement. “Some of the truck drivers are getting wiggy,” said Kersten. “But we’re not breaking the law. Some of our pickets have been bumped by impatient truck drivers.”

Across the street police were interviewing Augusta Zapo, one of the pickets who had been bumped in the arm by a truck. Zapo is one of half a dozen women out of a workforce of 122 at the plant. “I am so happy to see other women supporting us,” she told us.

The company is demanding that it be allowed to schedule work up to 14 straight days on 12-hour shifts. They want to impose mandatory overtime on scheduled days off. And they want to eliminate overtime pay after eight hours. “There should be a penalty against the company for working us more than eight hours,” said Zapo. “They make it impossible for our families.”

Their strike needs broad support. They ask unionists to join the picket line or drop off food/drinks/supplies; send a solidarity letter; donate to the strike fund; help spread the word.

Send contributions to: BCTGM Local 100G, 500 J St. SW, Cedar Rapids, IA 52404. Donate at: Messages can be sent to: