Oreo maker accused of alleged ‘corporate greed’ as contract negotiations teeter

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Negotiations have stalled between union reps and the Oreo maker. Pic: GettyImages/stacey_newman
Negotiations have stalled between union reps and the Oreo maker. Pic: GettyImages/stacey_newman

Related tags Mondelez International Oreos Nabisco Strike action

Representatives of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International union (BCTGM) said Nabisco workers decided to strike after negotiations with Mondelēz International – the Chicago-based owner of Nabisco – failed to yield an agreement.

More than 1,000 employees at Nabisco’s plants in Portland (Oregon), Richmond (Virginia) and Chicago (Illinois) bakeries, as well as the company’s sales distribution facilities in Aurora (Colorado), Addison (Illinois) and Norcross (Georgia), have downed tools following the breakdown of contract negotiations.

According to BCTGM, the major sticking points are a proposal to shift employees to a seven-day, alternating shift workweek and the elimination of overtime pay for weekends. It noted that during the pandemic, many workers went the extra mile to work 12-hour shifts, 6-7 days a week. Now however, they are being asked to downgrade benefits, which would cut overall wages.

Essentially, the workers are fingering the biscuit giant for alleged corporate greed – highlighting that Mondelēz posted more than $3.5bn in profits in 2020.

A fair wage for a fair day’s work

“They’ve said they want us to give up benefits, they want us to work more, and it has to stop,” ​BCTGM Union Local 364 president Jesus Martinez told the media.

“We just want something fair. We want to keep what we’ve already paid for. They’ve given us nothing for free. Everything has been negotiated.”

Keith Bragg, president of BCTGM Local 358, said he had taken offense to the notion tabled during discussions that ‘when the company does well, employees do well’.

“They’re doing well, we’re losing all the way around,”​ said Bragg.

“They shut down two plants this year, they’re cutting overtime, they’re making profits, but we lost half of our union membership. How is it that we’re doing well?”

BCTGM Local 364 VP Mike Burlingham added the union hopes to inspire others to stand up for themselves in their negotiations with employers for fair working conditions, pay and benefits.

“This is a fight for the American middle class,”​ he also told journalists.

“A lot of folks were very close to retirement, and were able to do so under the old plan, but when the company pulled out that basically meant that they had to continue working, they were no longer eligible to retire.

“We’re fighting to maintain what we already have. We’re not coming to the table asking for things, we’re coming to the table saying just leave things alone.”

'In good faith'

Negotiations broke down after union leaders rejected Mondelēz’s proposals, which included:

  • No change to healthcare benefits for current employees (eg, no employee deductibles, no employee premium contributions)
  • Annual wage increases
  • Ratification bonus
  • Increase to the 401(k) match
  • Increase to the company-provided short term disability benefit
  • Alternative work schedules:
    • For bakery workers on select high-demand lines: alternating 3-4 days per week, enabling better work/life balance
    • For sales teams: Up to five employees in each branch, working a Tuesday-Saturday schedule
    • Revised overtime rules, paying premiums to employees on the 6th and 7th day who work their scheduled hours during the week
    • 4 year term for new contracts
    • In addition, the offer withdrew a previously introduced proposal that would have allowed the use of temporary employees.

“We are disappointed by the decision of the local BCTGM unions at our Portland (OR), Richmond (VA) and Chicago (IL) bakeries and our Aurora (CO), Addison (IL) and Norcross (GA) sales distribution facilities to go on strike,” ​said Mondelēz.

“Our goal has been – and continues to be – to bargain in good faith with the BCTGM leadership across our US bakeries and sales distribution facilities to reach new contracts that continue to provide our employees with good wages and competitive benefits, including quality, affordable healthcare, and company-sponsored Enhanced Thrift Investment 401(k) Plan, while also taking steps to modernise some contract aspects which were written several decades ago.”

The breakdown in discussions has forced the Oreo and Chips Ahoy! maker to activate a continuity plan to continuing to supply its snacks to retailers and consumers.

Furthermore, it added that BCTGM negotiations over new collective bargaining agreements for the Atlanta and Fair Lawn bakery closures announced in February have been completed.

“As we respond to changing consumer needs and snacking growth opportunities, we are focusing our US biscuit operations on strategically located owned-and-operated bakeries on the East Coast, Midwest and West Coast of the United States. This includes our bakeries in Portland (OR), Richmond (VA) and Chicago/Naperville (IL), further supported by US-based external manufacturing. No US jobs went to Mexico related to the Atlanta and Fair Lawn closures.”

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