This strike is so much bigger than one bakery

By Graham Trainor

It should come as no surprise to anyone that workers are fed up, and that they are doing something about it.  A quick online search makes this even more obvious. Strikes, shop floor actions, civil disobedience, work stoppages: These are just some of the tools in the toolbox of the working class and the labor movement when we’ve been pushed too far.    

As the nation follows the high profile, high stakes strike at Nabisco (Mondelez is the parent company) that started right here in Portland, where workers in five states are holding the line for a fair contract, this too should not come as a surprise.  

Let’s take a look at what’s been happening at this company known for producing staples like Oreos, Ritz Crackers, and Chips Ahoy cookies for generations.  

First of all, this fight for fairness is nothing new for the workers represented by BCTGM (Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers) at Nabisco-Mondelez. For decades, this multiracial group of workers has taken great pride in their craft and in their union jobs that have provided the kind of economic and retirement security our nation needs more of. Unfortunately, this corporate giant that reported over $5.5 billion in profit in the second quarter of 2021 and whose CEO made nearly $17 million in 2020 is overlooking and disrespecting the very workers that have made them so successful throughout the turmoil of the last 18 months. Whether it’s the excessive forced overtime hours needed to feed the insatiable appetite for these previously beloved labels, to the pension grab from several years ago, to the unrelenting concessionary demands at a time of record profits, to the steady outsourcing of U.S. jobs, this global, publicly-traded snack food giant has followed the low-road corporate playbook as they continue to squeeze their union-represented workforce.        

Workers with experience, integrity, and a commitment to their craft had been pushed too far, and they did something about it.  

This nationwide strike that was sparked with the brave members of Portland-based BCTGM Local 364 is just one of the most recent inspiring examples of workers saying “enough is enough.”

This summer, members of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades Local 10 felt disrespected and undervalued, and they did something about it too. Members took a big step, stood strong, and went on strike for a fair slice of the profit that their contractors were enjoying, and they won a life-changing contract.     

In late April, faculty at Oregon Institute of Technology and members of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), marked the first faculty-wide strike in Oregon higher education history after attempting to negotiate a first contract for over 500 days, and they won in a victory for all higher education workers in the state.  

In March, healthcare workers and members of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP/American Federation of Teachers Local 5017) at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend went on strike after nearly two years of bargaining for their first contract, and they won in the middle of a global pandemic. 

Earlier in the year, workers at The Rawlin, a memory care facility in Springfield, went on strike to demand recognition as members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 and to fight for safe staffing levels and family-supporting wages.     

And these are just a few examples of Oregon workers being fed up and doing something about it. Add the ongoing strike at Warrior Met Coal in Alabama, the recent strike at Frito-Lay in Kansas, or the imminent strike authorization votes taking place at John Deere across a number of Midwestern states, and you can start to see something bigger that’s going on in the economy.    

When workers see other workers taking a brave stand, sacrificing their own economic stability, and fighting for a righteous cause, it has a contagious effect. It’s been clear for a long time that our economic system—one that favors wealth over work—is rigged and leaving far too many behind, especially women and workers of color. As more union and non-union workers alike get squeezed and they see news about a strike or a group of workers fighting for fairness, it can be a transformative moment that breeds the confidence to also take a stand. It is truly infectious.  

The American people see the connection between thriving communities, safe workplaces, and strong unions.  And they see the labor movement as the most effective counterbalance to corporate power in our economy. That’s why it was no surprise when a recent Gallup poll showed us that 68% of Americans approve of labor unions, the highest mark in over 50 years, and 77% of young people approve of unions. And that’s why over 60 million workers say they would join a union today if they had the opportunity to do so.  

The brave workers at Nabisco in Portland and around the country will continue to have the broad, unwavering support of the labor movement, full stop.  As this strike has sparked the imagination and the boldness of working people in every corner of the country and across industries, it’s also clear that this moment can be one of transformative change, growth, and innovation for our movement and for the entire working class. That is if we truly harness it.

The Oregon AFL-CIO is a 138,000-member-strong federation of labor unions.

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