By Don McIntosh
There may be signs of labor strife ahead for about 2,200 workers at Nabisco’s five remaining U.S. plants (including about 200 workers at Nabisco’s Portland Bakery) and three distribution centers.
National bargaining begins Feb. 16 between Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union (BCTGM) and Nabisco parent company Mondelēz International. But already in late January, online ads began appearing, offering temporary jobs at $28 an hour to workers with experience operating dough machines, continuous bake ovens, salters and spray oil machines, “for a possible labor dispute that may occur on or about February 29, 2016.” Feb. 29 is the date BCTGM’s existing union contracts expire at the eight Nabisco facilities.
The ads were posted by Michigan-headquartered Huffmaster Crisis Response. The company, which calls itself “the leading provider of strike management solutions,” provides replacement employees and strike security. The ads don’t mention Nabisco or Mondelēz by name, but they’re for jobs in the same cities as the Nabisco plants. Those are: Fairlawn, New Jersey; Richmond, Virginia; Chicago, Illinois; Atlanta, Georgia; and Portland, Oregon.
And at the Mondelēz International Nabisco Portland Bakery in Portland, Oregon, union officers say strike replacement workers are being brought in to shadow union workers. On Feb. 8, half a dozen individuals wearing contractor badges were brought onto the plant floor by managers, and stood watching while union members performed their jobs.
“We’ve never had that in our plant before,” said Judy Schultz, a 31-year employee in Portland.
Laurie M. Guzzinati, Mondelēz Director of Corporate & Government Affairs North America, wouldn’t confirm that the company is contracting with Huffmaster, but said in an emailed statement: “We work with a variety of resources to protect our business and serve our customers in the event of any business disruption.” Guzzinati also said the company intends to negotiate in good faith, “with the goal of securing contracts with the BCTGM that will continue to provide our employees with good wages and benefits, while at the same time allowing the company to continue its journey to drive strong, sustainable growth and snacking leadership in the marketplace.”
“We don’t know how much of it is psychological, or how much it’s real,” said Ron Baker, BCTGM International Strategic Campaign Coordinator about the replacement worker recruitment effort.
But Baker said labor relations have soured since Mondelēz — pronounced “mohn-dah-LEEZ” — was formed in 2012 as an independent spinoff of Kraft’s global snack division.
Mondelēz has about 3,640 union employees in the United States, according to its most recent annual report. Those include BCTGM members as well as Machinists and Operating Engineers. Most of Nabisco’s union workers earn about $26 an hour, enjoy employer-provided health insurance for themselves and their families, and have a traditional “defined benefit” pension plan.
Meanwhile, Mondelēz CEO Irene Rosenfeld received $21 million in total compensation in 2014.
Mondelēz has also begun communicating directly with workers about the upcoming contract negotiations via a web site, negotiations2016.com. On the site, Mondelēz appears to take shots at the union-sponsored multi-employer pension, with posts about the unrelated Teamsters Central States Pension, which is headed for insolvency. As the Mondelēz site points out, BCTGM’s multi-employer pension fund is also in “critical and declining status” and at the current rate, is projected to become insolvent within 17 years.
Guzzinati declined to explain the company’s purpose emphasizing that information, but said the site was created to provide news and information related to the negotiations process.
Baker, the national union campaign coordinator, wouldn’t discuss specifics of what the union will ask for in negotiations, other than to say that it will seek greater job security protections, in response to Mondelēz’ recent decision to shift some production to Mexico. Last July, the company announced it will spend $130 million to install four new production lines in Salinas, Mexico, and shut nine of its 16 production lines in Chicago, laying off 600 of its 1,200 Chicago workers. The union is fighting that decision in court and in the public, and is calling on supporters to learn more and sign a support petition at fightforamericanjobs.org.