Nabisco Strike Ends, Combative Portland Pickets Show Workers’ Tenacity

Photo: Workers and their supporters block a delivery truck attempting to cross the picket line

By Sarah Ahmed

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union came to an agreement with Mondelez International, the parent company of Nabisco, on September 18, ending the strike that began in Portland, Oregon and spread to Aurora, Colorado; Richmond, Virginia; Chicago, Illinois; and Norcross, Georgia. Throughout the strike, the Portland picket line in particular was the scene of clashes, with striking workers and their supporters militantly confronting scabs and fighting hired security at times.

Workers in Portland began their strike in mid-August, after Nabisco proposed a contract that would dramatically cut their overtime pay and benefits. The proposed contract would have moved workers to an “alternative work week,” where they would work three to four twelve-hour shifts in one week without overtime pay, and receive no overtime pay for working on weekends.

The ratified contract includes a 60 cents per hour wage increase each year for four years, a $5,000 sign-on bonus (which essentially covers the wages workers missed during the strike), makes no changes to the existing health care plan, and increases the employer contribution to workers’ retirement plans.

In place of the “alternative work week” originally proposed by Mondelez, the company is now creating a “weekend work crew,” where new workers hired after the contract ratification date can be assigned to work three twelve-hour shifts, Friday through Monday, with no premium or overtime pay.

The new arrangement lowers the amount of overtime available, as workers previously received overtime pay automatically for weekends and shifts longer than eight hours.

A Nabisco worker in Portland told Tribune, “So many people in Portland voted against it. We saw the language and the foot in the door it gave [Mondelez].”

Workers on the Portland Picket Line

The same worker told Tribune that he and his coworkers felt rushed to vote on the contract, saying, “Our problem in Portland was the quickness this was brought to us and the rush to vote before everyone could fully understand what they were voting for. We had a meeting to read the proposal at 9 a.m. and we were asked to vote around 10:30 [a.m.].”

A Richmond-based Nabisco worker speaking to Tribune was very critical of the union, noting that the new weekend work crews were a major concession and reduce the amount of overtime hours available to workers:

“I feel the union failed us. They are claiming victory but in reality the contract ain’t right. Nothing changed, it’s like we striked for nothing. Somehow the twelve hours was still implemented in the contract, just a different format.”

To sustain themselves, the workers only received $105 a week from the strike fund. The Richmond worker said, “We should have had a bigger strike check. Especially with the GoFundMe accounts each local union had and union reps making 200k salary.”

“The union claims the [contract] vote was a unanimous vote. How, when Portland voted ‘No’ and Richmond was about 50/50?” the Richmond worker asked.

Combative Confrontations in Portland

During the three weeks of picketing, striking workers and their supporters in Portland used combative tactics to stop Mondelez’s attempts at breaking the strike. Protesters would use their cars to block the entrances of an external parking lot where scab workers parked before loading onto vans to drive into the Nabisco facility. Supporters also used their cars and bodies to prevent strikebreakers from entering or leaving the facility.

In late August, striking workers began blocking Union Pacific Railway train cars delivering ingredients to the Nabisco bakery in Portland. Railroad workers with Railroad Workers United stood with the Nabisco workers and reneged on the deliveries of sugar, flour, and oil that were intended for bakery.

As the struggle between strikers and Mondelez escalated, security guards working for Huffmaster Crisis Response became increasingly violent towards the workers and their supporters. A supportive worker with the Teamsters Union, Jesse Dreyer, was assaulted by security guards while at the picket line. Video shows two security guards shoving Dreyer against a van multiple times, with one guard elbowing Dreyer in the head.

Another strike supporter told the Portland Mercury that Huffmaster guards stomped on protesters feet and elbowed them, saying, “I actually was recovering from a foot injury […] and after that, I have had a lot of difficulty walking this week. There have been nights I haven’t been able to sleep through the pain.”

A Portland worker told Tribune that he hoped the strikes across the country would inspire more workers to strike. He explained: “A lot of us in Portland do feel like we were part of something bigger than ourselves. With all that has happened over the last 6 weeks I believe it will inspire others to do the same.”

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