By Don McIntosh, associate editor
Chicago bakery worker Anthony Jackson was laid off from Nabisco March 23. On June 16 and 17, he visited Portland as part of a multi-city tour to publicize his union’s boycott of Mexican-made Oreos. Jackson is one of several hundred Chicago workers who were disposed of when Nabisco, a highly profitable and iconic American corporation, decided to make even more money by shifting more production to Mexico.
The story began in May 2015 when Nabisco parent company Mondelēz told leaders of Chicago-based Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers (BCTGM) Local 300 that it would close nine of 16 production lines in Chicago — and spend $130 million to open four new ones at its plant in Salinas, Mexico — if union workers in Chicago didn’t offer up $46 million a year in concessions. The union refused to consider that ultimatum, saying it would amount to a $29,000 cut in compensation per worker. Mondelēz moved ahead with the new production lines in Salinas, and laid off 251 of its Chicago production workers on March 23. Jackson was in that first wave. Another 43 were laid off May 27.
“It is an older facility,” Jackson said, “but if you go by the numbers, it wasn’t like we were bottom of the class as far as the plants go. This is being done strictly for corporate greed.”
A disabled U.S. Navy veteran supporting three daughters, Jackson says it won’t be easy for him find a job with similar pay and benefits. Jackson, 39, was making up to $26.08 an hour plus benefits under the union contract, after four-and-a-half years working at Nabisco’s flagship industrial bakery. Layoffs targeted the least senior workers, so all the workers who remain have been at the Chicago Nabisco plant more than nine years.
Jackson says on their final day, he and his laid-off co-workers were escorted out of the plant one-by-one by security guards.
“I guess you could say it was like a funeral procession,” he said. “Even though we saw this day [coming] it was another thing when you actually are in the moment.”
Adding insult to injury, Jackson said the Monday after his layoff, Nabisco required the remaining employees to work overtime.
BCTGM has dubbed the laid-off workers the “Nabisco/Mondelēz 600,” but so far, just 294 Chicago Nabisco workers have been laid off — not 600, as the company had announced. Since the second wave of workers was shown the door May 27, there’s been no third layoff notification and no talk of a third wave. BCTGM leaders don’t know why, but speculate it may have to do with an unexpected wave of retirements, adverse publicity, and even a failure to plan.
Meanwhile, the BCTGM union contract covering 2,000 Nabisco workers in five states expired Feb. 29, and the two sides haven’t reached a new agreement. For the union, bargaining stalled over Mondelēz’ proposal to withdraw from the union pension plan and instead contribute the same amount to a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan; and to replace the current fully-paid healthcare plan with a plan that requires workers to pay 10 percent of costs. Mondelēz presented the union what it called its “Revised Last, Best and Final Offer” on April 8.
Nabisco may have thought Americans wouldn’t care about one more company shifting production overseas, but the layoffs became an issue in the presidential campaign. Presidential candidate Donald Trump said he’d never eat another Oreo. Hillary Clinton visited the union office across the street from the Chicago Nabisco plant. And Bernie Sanders sent a surrogate, former CWA union president Larry Cohen, to deliver a message of solidarity.
Now BCTGM is focusing on publicizing its boycott of Mexican-made Oreos and other Nabisco products. Jackson and other laid-off workers have visited over a dozen cities to get the word out. In Portland, Jackson and BCTGM international organizer Nate Zeff joined BCTGM Local 364 members (and supporters from UFCW and AFL-CIO) in a June 16 picket outside the Nabisco plant on North Columbia Boulevard. And on June 17, they addressed a meeting of the Oregon AFL-CIO executive board.
“Even though this fight is centered around Mondelēz, it’s actually bigger than Mondelēz,” Jackson says. “We have to fight this fight against Mondelēz and all the other corporations that are running to Mexico. We must make this fight so hard for Mondelēz that the rest of the companies will see that and say it’s not worth it.”
HOW TO SUPPORT THE BOYCOTT: