MEMPHIS, Tenn. — “We drove eight hours from Topeka, Kansas, to be here in support of BCTGM Local 390G union strikers,” Sam Burns, a union steward from Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 218 at Frito-Lay, told the Militant Dec. 15 on the strike picket line at International Flavors and Fragrances.
Burns came with Jessy Sevoy, another union steward; Chantel Mendenhall, the local’s business agent; Jerry Freed, an executive board member; and two other workers. They brought a big trailer equipped with a barbecue grill and were ready to cook a delicious hot lunch for everybody, receiving a warm welcome.
“Local 218 members held a fundraiser for the members of Local 390G who’ve been on strike against International Flavors and Fragrances here for six months,” said Mendenhall. “The support from other BCTGM members across the nation has been so tremendous.” The Local 218 delegation brought $500 to support the strike.
“We came from Texas bringing solidarity greetings from our co-workers at Bimbo Bakeries in Grand Prairie, BCTGM Local 111,” said Gerardo Sánchez Corona, a local member who came with this co-worker and Militant worker-correspondent.
The nearly 200 members of Local 390G went on strike here June 4, more than a year after their last contract expired. International Flavors and Fragrances produces soy protein products used by companies like Nestle, Nestle Purina and Abbott Nutrition to manufacture baby formula, pet foods, soy-based nutritional powders and other products.
“They are very kind to support us and it’s necessary,” Cedric Wilson, president of Local 390G, said of the solidarity teams from Topeka and Grand Prairie. “This is the first time this plant has been on strike. The company has no respect for us. They want to eliminate paid lunch breaks.”
Overtime pay is another issue. “They’ve already implemented that overtime pay starts after 40 hours, not after eight,” he said. “If you’re asked to work overtime and refuse, it means a point.” He added that the vote for the strike was overwhelming.
Solidarity comes from all over
The unionists from Kansas cooked up a lunch of pulled-pork sandwiches, turkey, hot dogs and mac and cheese, served with chips, pickles and other condiments. They even brought dinner plates and plastic ware.
Everyone ate in the tent pickets used to take breaks. Drivers passing by blew their horns in support, prompting cheers from the workers. Many strikers said they’ve gotten jobs at other places to make ends meet, but they stop by the picket line as much as possible.
The next day strikers and supporters gathered at the Local 390G union hall. They were welcomed by Wilson and Jason Thomas, BCTGM international organizer.
Sánchez approached Wilson and asked if he could give a brief presentation on a solidarity message he had brought from sugarcane workers in the Dominican Republic, and to hand over the contributions from our local. “Sure, let’s do it,” Wilson said, and introduced Sánchez.
Sánchez explained he is a packer in the Bimbo Bakeries in Grand Prairie, Texas. He had been invited through his union local to participate in a conference of the Sugarcane Workers Union in the Dominican Republic in November.
“We can learn from their struggle, and they can learn from ours here,” he said.
Sánchez explained the sugarcane workers are mostly Haitians. “They’re fighting for the same things we are: better wages, including overtime after eight hours; better working and living conditions; decent health care for themselves and their families; good pensions; and an end to discrimination against Haitian workers by Dominican government officials.
“I told them workers here confront the same kind of bosses they do,” he said. “This kind of contact between workers around the world will strengthen our unions and help build a worldwide labor movement based on solidarity and unity. That is the only way we can win.”
Strikers wanted to hear more. “How much do the sugarcane workers make?” “It’s $53 a week,” Sánchez said. “What about health care?” The strikers couldn’t believe it when he reported that “they don’t even have a first aid box. The closest clinic is an hour away.”
He gave the strikers pictures of the sugarcane workers, along with their message of support for the Local 390G strike that they had signed. At Sánchez’ initiative, Wilson invited the strikers to have their photo taken with Sánchez holding up the cane cutters’ greetings to send to the Dominican Republic.
Then everyone looked at a card signed by workers from the Grand Prairie Bimbo’s along with their contribution of $443 for Local 390G’s holiday toy drive for strikers’ children. To send support and contributions, go to www.gofundme.com/f/bctgm-local-390g-iff-memphis-workers-on-strike.