As a union stalemate at Nabisco drags out, senior employees are retiring in significant numbers.
Nabisco’s union contract with Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) expired Feb. 29, creating great uncertainty for 2,000 workers in five states, including about 180 at a Nabisco plant in Portland. The two sides haven’t met to negotiate since April 8, when Nabisco parent company Mondelēz presented the union with what it called its “Revised Last, Best and Final Offer.” In that offer, Mondelēz proposed to diminish health insurance coverage and withdraw from the union pension plan, instead contributing the same amount to a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan.
BCTGM called the company’s proposal unacceptable.
Union members authorized a strike, and the company has advertised for replacement workers, but neither side has initiated a work stoppage. No negotiations are scheduled. It’s a standoff.
But Ron Baker, BCTGM International Strategic Campaign Coordinator, says many Nabisco workers aren’t waiting to see how it turns out. Since Mondelēz began pushing to leave the pension, close to 100 workers have retired from the Chicago plant, and about 45 from the Portland plant. And some were in a rush to leave by Aug. 1; after that date, workers’ monthly pension benefit drops from $1,900 down to $1,600 under a pension plan rule that ended the early-retirement 80-and-out benefit 180 days after a union contract’s expiration.
“There are skills going out the door that they can never replace,” Baker said.
Mondelēz says it wants out of the BCTGM’s multi-employer pension because the plan is headed for insolvency. The plan’s financial health took a big hit when Hostess stopped paying into it, in violation of its union contract, then declared bankruptcy and repudiated its $944 million debt to the pension plan. To deal with the pension plan asset shortfall, remaining employers are having to pay a surcharge equal to 5 or 10 percent of what they were previously paying into the pension.
As the standoff drags on, BCTGM is focused on publicizing its boycott of Nabisco products made in Mexico. After shifting some production to a new facility in Salinas, Mexico, the company laid off 294 of its Chicago workers in March and May. The union is asking consumers to read the label, and if it says Made in Mexico, don’t buy it. U.S.-made Nabisco products are still made by union workers.
BCTGM is also reaching out to Mondelēz unions in other countries. An international conference of Mondelēz unions is scheduled to take place in Chicago Sept. 20-21, organized by International Union of Food Workers (IUF), a world-wide federation of trade unions.