Bakers in another standoff at Nabisco

By Don McIntosh

NAFTA WORKING AS INTENDED: Citing “changes in product demand” Mondelez/Nabisco shut down an Oreo production line at its Portland bakery for two weeks in late March 2019, temporarily laying off at least 30 members of Bakers Local 364. That inspired several members to visit the nearest Fred Meyer grocery, where they found Mexican-made Oreos on shelves.

Just over a year after the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers (BCTGM) union accepted the elimination of their ­pension in order to end a four-year deadlock with Mondelēz-Nabisco, the two sides are back in another standoff.

In its 2016 union contract negotiations, Mondelēz-Nabisco said it wanted out of BCTGM’s multiemployer pension because the plan was forecast to run out of money by 2030. Troubled union pensions are now eligible for rescue thanks to a provision of the COVID relief package that passed this March. But Mondelēz-Nabisco halted contributions to the pension in May 2018, two years after its contract with BCTGM expired, instead putting funds into 401(k) retirement savings plans.

The company also implemented raises it had proposed. 

BCTGM belatedly accepted the terms of the company’s offer in April 2020, ratifying a contract that was set to expire March 1, 2021.

But those terms weren’t enough to satisfy the greed gods atop the profitable company. The company is doing very well amid a pandemic-related snack boom, and CEO Dirk Van de Put received $18 million in compensation last year — 561 times the median worker at the company.

At the same time, Mondelēz-Nabisco is cutting its union workforce in half from about 2,000 to about 1,000, closing its plant in Fairlawn, New Jersey, at the end of June and its plant in Atlanta at the end of July. After the closures, there will be just three remaining Nabisco bakeries in the United States: in Chicago, Portland, and Richmond, Virginia. The company has shifted production in recent years to a newer plant in Mexico and to Hearthside, a massive non-union contract bakery in McComb, Ohio, that employs 1,200 workers. 

BCTGM members voted in February to extend the contract three months to June 1, along with a 2.25% wage increase that brought the typical wage to $29.40 an hour, and a severance package for workers affected by the plant closures. They also voted to authorize the union bargaining committee to call a strike if negotiations ended without a new contract.

National contract negotiations were scheduled for up to two weeks in Nashville in May, but broke down May 12 after Mondelēz-Nabisc demanded a host of major concessions from the union. The company wants to eliminate daily overtime after eight hours, get rid of premium pay for working weekends, do away with the bonus for perfect attendance, raise the limit on employment of temps to 25% of the workforce, stop providing life insurance and supplemental health care for retirees, and change the health insurance plan to require workers to start paying part of the cost. 

Any one of those items would be a bitter pill. Taken together, the proposals make union officers like Portland Local 364 business manager Cameron Taylor doubtful that the company wants a union agreement at all.

“We were there to get a contract. We were there to negotiate,” Taylor said. “But it became clear the negotiations were not going to come to an agreement.”

BCTGM’s national leadership said because of negotiations scheduled with other employers it won’t be able to meet again until August or September.

That meant that as of June 1, BCTGM members at Nabisco were without a union contract once again. 

As of press time Tuesday, June 2, there was no word on whether or when BCTGM members will go on strike. But BCTGM members were calling in sick in large numbers at the Chicago and Richmond bakeries, slowing or halting a restart of production lines that had been shut down for the Memorial Day weekend.


6/3/21 UPDATE: All lines at the Nabisco bakery in Portland shut down as of 5 a.m. after some members of graveyard shift went home early and the entire day shift called out sick.

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