Nabisco workers on Southwest Side vow solidarity as strike continues




A strike at the Nabisco plant on the Southwest Side is in its second week with no talks scheduled and union members vowing to continue round-the-clock picketing, even in the summer heat.

Union leaders said members remain strongly opposed to a company proposal for alternate work schedules of 12-hour days that they said would eliminate premium pay for weekend work. Mondelez International, which owns Nabisco, said the change would not apply to most workers but would give it flexibility in meeting consumer demand.

“We have no idea how long this might last,” union steward April Flowers-Lewis said Friday. The strike here is part of a job action affecting six locations across the U.S. “We’ve been sending messages to the people at the other plants. Everyone is holding strong,” Flowers-Lewis said.

Flowers-Lewis said picketers here have gotten support from other unions and neighbors that include donations of food and water. “People have been coming by and walking our picket line,” she said.

A picket sign hangs outside the Nabisco plant located at 7300 S Kedzie Ave in the Marquette Park neighborhood, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021.

A picket sign hangs outside the Nabisco plant located at 7300 S Kedzie Ave in the Marquette Park neighborhood, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The Chicago strikers are members of Local 1 of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union. They started the walkout Aug. 19, part of a strike that began earlier in August in Portland, Oregon.

Veronica Hopkins, a business agent at Local 1, said the union has about 325 members at the Chicago plant, 7300 S. Kedzie Ave., and about 20 workers at a sales distribution site in Addison. She said the strike involves about 1,000 people nationwide, whose contract expired May 31.

“They’re trying to bring in retirees and managers” as well as temporary workers to keep production going, Hopkins said. “They have not been very successful. They barely have enough people to run one line.”

There have been reports in Portland of strikebreakers being bused into the location, but Flowers-Lewis said she’s unaware of that being tried in Chicago.

Mondelez spokeswoman Laurie Guzzinati said the company has a “robust contingency plan” customized for each location. She declined to get into details, except to say that managers have been tapped to work production.

A group of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 1 union members strike outside the Chicago Nabisco plant located 7300 S Kedzie Ave in the Marquette Park neighborhood, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021.

A group of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 1 union members strike outside the Chicago Nabisco plant located 7300 S Kedzie Ave in the Marquette Park neighborhood, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

At the Chicago plant, the products include Nabisco’s Chips Ahoy, Wheat Thins, Nutter Butter cookies and belVita breakfast biscuits.

On a web site set up to give its side of the negotiations, Mondelez said it aims to continue offering good wages and benefits “while also taking steps to modernize some contract aspects which were written several decades ago.”

It has proposed in certain cases alternate schedules of three or four consecutive 12-hour days, with the same number of days off. “For employees, it offers greater predictability in scheduling,” Guzzinati said. Hopkins said it would eliminate higher pay on weekends, disrupt family time and result in people getting checks for 36 hours one week, 48 hours the next.

Other sticking points include health care, with the company offering a less generous plan for new hires that Guzzinati said mimics a benefit at a unionized plant in Naperville not part of the strike.

Workers don’t want to see any erosion of health-care benefits, for which they currently pay no premium, Flowers-Lewis said. A 27-year employee, she said workers had to give up their pension several years ago.

“We had to work long hours through the pandemic,” she said. “We’re hard workers.” Employees often pulled 16-hour shifts, she said. During the pandemic, people confined at home stocked up on grocery staples, requiring more production and increasing profits for Chicago-based Mondelez.

A picket sign hangs outside the Nabisco plant located at 7300 S Kedzie Ave in the Marquette Park neighborhood, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021.

A picket sign hangs outside the Nabisco plant located at 7300 S Kedzie Ave in the Marquette Park neighborhood, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

While the company said it has offered a wage hike, Hopkins said, “They haven’t given us a number.” Both sides said there are no bargaining sessions scheduled.

Hopkins said the last meeting of negotiators was Tuesday. “If they contact us, we’re willing to talk,” she said.

In 2016, the Chicago plant figured in national news, and put presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on the same side, when Mondelez ended its Oreo production line and moved about 600 local jobs to Mexico. Clinton and Trump both condemned the move.

Guzzinati said Mondelez has invested in the Chicago plant since then, adding products and calling back some laid-off workers.







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