David Woods says Nabisco is not the company it used to be. Woods, who got his start in the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers (BCTGM) as a lead maintenance mechanic in a flour mill in Knoxville, Tennessee, is today secretary-treasurer of the national union, and the lead negotiator trying to bargain a new master labor contract for 1,000 workers at five Nabisco locations around the United States. Don McIntosh of the Northwest Labor Press spoke with him by phone Aug. 26.
You guys met with Nabisco a couple days ago. Was there any progress or any hope of a settlement?
It wasn’t a negotiation. It was just to kind of see where both sides are at. It didn’t last very long. The company is still wanting concessions. They’re still wanting takeaways. And that’s just not where the workers are at, and the workers decide this. There’s no reason to take takeaways with the profits this company’s making. It’s just incredible that they’re asking for this right now.
How can a company that’s at record profitability be asking you guys to go backward? What do you make of it?
Well, what I make of it is that the company don’t know their workforce. They don’t appreciate what they’ve done for the company. They don’t appreciate the longevity. They don’t appreciate them standing on that concrete and breaking their backs and taking time away from their families. They don’t appreciate them saving the company through this pandemic to make sure products came out.
They’re making record profits. Their stock prices are the highest they’ve ever been, in the second quarter, and they just had about a billion and a half buyback of their stock, to try to increase their stock prices even more for shareholders. And none of that was because workers took concessions. They made that kind of record profits while workers hadn’t taken concessions. Now they want to take away from the workers. They just don’t know their workers. They don’t appreciate them and they don’t know them, and don’t want to get to know them. These workers have really sacrificed for this company.
It’s not always been this way with Nabisco. You talk to anybody who’s been here for a long time—the company used to be like a family. I mean you go to work, you’re around family and they treated you well, and if you had problems, you worked it out.
Now the company don’t really care about its workforce. They just want to take away from the workers, just like moving the jobs to Mexico. They made $350 million just by closing Atlanta and Fair Lawn (New Jersey), and they won’t answer where the product went. Millions of pounds of products were being produced between those two plants. Fair Lawn was the largest U.S. bakery in Nabisco, and they closed it. Where did it all go? Because none of it showed up at the other plants. None of that product was moved to the other plants, none, zero.
So just to be clear, those two plants obviously were producing a substantial amount of product when they closed this summer. You might have expected the other three plants to increase their production, but you did NOT see that?
They did not. See, they were already running high volumes, the other plants were. So where did this production go? It ain’t like they added new lines to the other plants and said, “Okay when these close down, we’re gonna move that production over here.” There’s nothing there. Where did it go? They can’t answer that question, because we know it’s in Mexico.
They contract with a company in McComb, Ohio, to produce some Nabisco goods. Any way to know whether they’re increasing production there?
We do. We know. We just had an organizing campaign there last year, and met with the workers. We’ve talked to people in the plant. They’ve had no volume increase as a result of these two facilities closing. So if it didn’t go there, it didn’t go to their other facilities, where did it go? Because the numbers are still out here. And what you see if you go to any store shelf in the United States—and I’ve been all over this country, and I go to grocery stores all the time—you will find 80% of the product says “Made in Mexico” on the back of it. I don’t care what Nabisco product it is, any product that has that triangle on it, if you flip it over and you look at where it’s made it’s gonna say made in Mexico. We know where the product is. This has been a plan and it ain’t just this these two plants that shut down. They shut down a dozen plants in the last 10, 12 years. So this has been a long corporate plan, they’re not made up overnight, to try to weaken the workforce in the United States and fool the American people, make them think that Nabisco’s an American company when they’re not. They’re a global company, and they don’t care about the American society. They just care about their profits. The workers that work for these American facilities feed the economy. They’re not worried about doing what’s right with America and American workers. They’re not a good corporate citizen in the United States, they’re really not.
Is there reason to worry this may be an attempt to stonewall and bust the union? I mean, normally a reasonable bargaining position would be, “So we’re doing well, we’ll either hold the line or give you a little extra.” But the idea of saying, “We’re doing great. Now we’re asking you to give things up” … nobody could accept that and have any dignity. Is this a way to get you all out on strike and then permanently replace the workers or just bust the union in some fashion?
I don’t believe so. I believe it is just the greed. I mean, go back, when Mondelez took over Nabisco [spun off from Kraft as an independent company in 2012], from the first negotiation we started in 2016 with them, they were after concessions then. And they ended up taking the workers’ retirement pension plan. And all this stuff they’re asking now they were asking for then, on top of that. But [last time] they were satisfied with just stealing the pension from the workers, and now they’re not through getting what they want. They feel these workers make too much money. They feel like they’ve got too good of benefits, and they don’t deserve it. And that goes back to what I said earlier, which is, they just don’t know these workers. These workers are very dedicated. They work long hours. It’s hot in these bakeries. It’s hot, it’s hard work, you’re on concrete all day. You work 8, 10, 12 hours, sometimes 16 hour days.
You mentioned Mondelez being pretty aggressive right out of the gate. They were a spinoff from Kraft. Did they not keep the old management?
Actually it started with Kraft, but it wasn’t near as bad until they spun off to Mondelez. Once they spun it off to this Mondelez, that’s when they really became very aggressive. Kraft was more aggressive than the previous owners, but when Kraft spun it off to Mondelez, that’s when it just went to where the company just did not care. I mean, the hours of work, like for instance the 12 hour days.… I know for a fact in Richmond, Virginia, they had management people they put on 12 hours, and they quit. And I told the company, I said, “Look, even your management don’t want this.” And they go, “Yeah, we know.” But it doesn’t seem to matter to them.
So a lot of the members were working those mandatory 12 hour shifts, but getting four hours overtime because of that?
Right. They get premium pay.
And then on Sunday it’s all double time?
They had to do it during the pandemic, because they had to get the product out. Now the company feels they make too much money, and the pandemic’s not even over yet. The problem is they keep moving more and more stuff to Mexico. We believe they’re still putting more and more equipment in Mexico instead of the United States, and we can’t compete with 97 cents an hour. We just can’t.
Is that what you think they’re making at the Mexico plant?
We got a copy of their contract, a few years ago. They have what’s called a corporate contract with the workers, it’s not a union contract. It’s not a trade union like we have in the United States. So it’s a contract and that’s what it says they make: 97 cents an hour. We also know through U.S. contractors going down to Mexico that they’re putting more equipment in those plants. They come back and tell us how many more lines they’re adding, how much more capacity they’ve got, what they’re putting out, so we’ve got a lot more information. We’re sharing that with our senators and congressmen. We’re letting them know what’s going on. Somebody’s got to do something.
Do you have any information as to whether product is starting to run out or disappear from the shelves? Are they feeling the impact of the strike?
Well I know they’ve got to be feeling the impact. But it’s only been two weeks. It’s gonna take a little while. There’s a lot of product out there, and obviously they’re still pumping it out of Mexico. I think it is affecting them in some areas already. It has to be. That’s a lot of volume not running out of those plants. And they can say they got contingencies. But you can’t just walk up one day and do those jobs. There’s a lot of training involved. These are high skill, high production jobs, and that’s why they’re paid and compensated at a good rate.
If you pay people substandard wages and substandard benefits, you might not have that same attitude from those workers; it’s just another job. If they maintain the benefits they currently have, maybe they’ll be able to recruit a next generation of people who are gonna be loyal to the brand, loyal to the jobs, put out good quality. But you gotta share it with your workers.
Well, they don’t seem to want to do that right now. One thing I heard a little bit on the picket line was confusion about why everybody didn’t go out at once. Was there a strategy in rolling it out gradually that the international union had in mind?
Those locals negotiate together, so they helped develop the strategy. At the end of the day it’s about getting a contract. The locals decided how we wanted to approach it. But the workers were ready everywhere. It’s still our goal to get a fair contract, and the company has not come to the table to do that yet.
Just to be clear, are all the members of the bargaining unit at this point out on strike: every distribution center, every bakery?
The ones that are covered by this collective bargaining agreement. Not all of our locations are covered under this pattern type bargaining that we’re doing. We do have a few other facilities that aren’t part of the pattern, but their contracts have expired too and they’re having similar problems that we’re having. And so who knows what’s next? There’s more to come.
Are you saying that there are other union Nabisco facilities? Where are those located?
In Naperville, Illinois, and San Antonio, Texas.
And those are distribution centers?
One’s a plant, and ones a distribution.
What’s the plant?
What do they make?
So they’re still working under a different contract?
They’re not part of the same bargaining unit, but yes their contract has expired also, and the workers there have voted unanimously to strike.
In Portland, we’re seeing a lot of solidarity.
It’s absolutely incredible. We do appreciate that, we need the attention given to this. I think it’s very important not just for our workers, for all American workers. The other AFL-CIO unions, organizations from all over the country, whether union or not, have been coming out on the lines, letting their voices be heard. And they really appreciate our workers taking a stand like this. I think this is really gonna help a lot of people see that unions are necessary, unions are important to society, because you can’t trust the corporate citizens to do the right thing with the workers.