By Sarah Ahmed
The Nabisco strike now includes bakeries and distribution centers across five states as of Monday, when workers at a distribution center in Norcross, Georgia joined striking workers in Portland, Chicago, Richmond, and Aurora. Tribune had the opportunity to speak with workers on the picket line in Portland and Richmond, who shared their experiences working heavy overtime shifts during the pandemic and the impact that Nabisco’s proposed contract would have on their families.
As the workers bravely go on strike to fight for their basic needs, Mondelez International, the parent company of Nabisco, reported a 12.4 percent increase in revenue and a $300 million increase in profit during the second quarter (ending in June 2021) compared with the same quarter last year.
Portland: “We want to build, improve something for the worker”
The Portland bakery was the first Nabisco facility to begin striking after 200 workers walked out on August 10. Workers with the union Local 364 went on strike in response to Nabisco’s proposed contract, which would require employees to work three to four 12-hour shifts per week, cut overtime pay by up to $40,000 per year, and move new employees to a high-deductible healthcare plan. Workers at the Portland bakery, which produces Chips Ahoy, Kraft products, and Newtons, worked overtime to set up a new production line in preparation for the Fairlawn, New Jersey bakery closing this year.
One packer told Tribune about the difficulty of working mandatory overtime shifts during the pandemic:
It really tears your family life up, it would do it to anybody. During the pandemic hardly anybody missed work and they were paying us shit money just to come in during the pandemic while everybody else was getting bonuses, you know? Our bonus wasn’t quite as much as everybody else. Even the plants around here were getting better bonuses.
Another worker holding a sign saying, “ON STRIKE—Nabisco Bakers Union Local 364” derided the additional $2 per hour that workers received during the pandemic, which was not enough to cover the cost of living in Portland:
Rent is so high that you break even unless you work overtime. And then they gave us a covid raise which was 2 dollars a day or something like that. Everything goes up! We have to go buy gas to come here, we have to eat, we have to pay rent, pay mortgages, and everything needs money. Life is made by money.
Another worker who had been with the company for 22 years told Tribune:
We come to strike for the people working. We want to build, improve something for the worker… The company is making a lot of profit, we work for them and make a lot of money for them they don’t want to spend anything on us. Just work more work more, make more money for them. We work hard for them and they want to pay us less. They are changing the medical plans for families and it is very bad – very bad. For families it is $2,500 deductible, it is very expensive…
Richmond: “…they turn around and want to take everything from us”
About 400 workers at the Richmond, Virginia bakery walked off the job on Monday, August 16. A worker on the picket line on Sunday was seen holding two signs which together read, “No Contract… No Snacks.” The Richmond bakery produces many of Nabisco’s core products, including Ritz, Chips Ahoy, and Nilla Wafers. Nabisco recently moved one of the Oreo production lines to Richmond after closing the Fairlawn, New Jersey bakery earlier this year.
One baker told Tribune that, during a COVID outbreak, he had to work five 16-hour shifts in a week. As a result of the heavy double shifts that he and his coworkers were forced into, workers saw an increase in injuries, which Nabisco blamed on the workers and responded to by scheduling meetings about safety.
A worker marching on the picket line spoke with Tribune about the difficulty of juggling the heavy overtime schedules with the responsibility of being a new mom:
I’m a first time mommy, I have a seven month old. I worked 30 days in a row while pregnant. I was doing 12-16 hours pregnant. It’s already a struggle doing the 8 hours, it’s a struggle doing these 16 hours. How am I supposed to make my baby go to sleep when I’m that tired? That’s too much.
While Nabisco used the pandemic as an excuse to hire temp workers, a machine captain told Tribune that with the heavy overtime schedule that the company had proposed, workers could not regularly clean and maintain the machines used to produce food. In addition to abusing their workers, Nabisco is willing to compromise the health and safety of people who consume their products in pursuit of profit:
Lines have to go down for maintenance, to go down to be cleaned. Lines can’t run 24/7 nonstop. It’s food. You eat this stuff, so they have to get cleaned. But to change to what they want to do, the lines would never go down. That’s just corporate greed. The CEO makes 40 million a year, why do you get paid 40 million a year? They don’t get jobs by what they know, they get jobs by who they know. It’s an old boys club.
Workers have received only $300 in hazard pay throughout the entirety of the pandemic. While workers were supposed to receive an additional $2 per hour, a forklift operator said she never even received this small pay increase:
During the pandemic they made record breaking profits, then they turn around and want to take everything from us. We been through a pandemic, and they only gave us $300. They’re supposed to be showing us appreciation. They gave us two dollars. I got cheated. I still haven’t gotten my pandemic pay. When we lost the pension we should have been on strike. Maybe I would have had one.
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