Union launches boycott to save jobs

The union representing laid off workers at the Nabisco bakery in Chicago has launched a boycott campaign to protest the layoffs.

The Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco, and Grain Millers Union (BCTGM) is urging consumers not to buy Oreos, Chips Ahoy, and Ritz Crackers made in Mexico.

The union on March 23 also announced that it would be sending teams of workers laid off at the Chicago bakery to communities all over the US to publicize the boycott.

Two days before the union made its announcement, Mondelez International, the owner of the Chicago bakery, laid off 277 workers at the bakery.

Mondelez, the world’s largest maker of snack foods, is in the process of moving much of the work done at the Chicago bakery to Mexico. When the process is complete, 600 of the 1200 jobs at the bakery will be eliminated.

In July 2015, Mondelez told its Chicago workers that instead of investing to upgrade the Chicago bakery, it would be shutting down some of its production and moving the work to Mexico.

Prior to the announcement, Mondelez had made the workers an offer that the company knew the workers couldn’t accept–agree to $46 million a year in concessions in perpetuity, and the company would invest in upgrading the plant.

David Durkee, international president of BCTGM called Mondelez’s offer a sham.

“They made an offer that was so ridiculous they knew it could never be accepted,” said Durkee.

Had workers accepted the proposed concessions, their pay and benefits would have been cut by 60 percent.

“I don’t know of anybody who could support a family if 60 percent of their pay is cut today,” said Jethro Head, vice president Midwest Region BCTGM.

According to Durkee, Mondelez’s offer was made to justify a decision that had already been made.

Mondelez was ranked 91 on the 2015 Fortune 500 list of the world’s largest corporations.

It is the product of a Byzantine restructuring of the commercial food business that involved Kraft, General Mills, Nabisco, and the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company.

After a series of mergers, restructuring, and spinoffs, Kraft in 2010 split itself in two. One company continued to make and sell food products under the Kraft and other brands.

The other became Mondelez, a global snack food corporation, that makes Oreos, Cadbury candy, and a host of other popular snack foods.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the split was forced by Trian Fund Management, a hedge fund and activist investor with major holdings in Kraft.

Five years later, according to the Journal, William Ackman another hedge fund manager and activist investor acquired a $5.5 billion stake in Mondelez. The Journal reports at the time of the acquisition that Ackman “believes that Mondelez has to grow revenue faster and cut costs significantly or sell itself to a rival.”

At about the same time that Ackman was calling for cost cuts, Mondelez announced that it would be moving much of the work done at its Chicago bakery to Mexico.

Mondelez’s Chicago Nabisco bakery has been a fixture on Chicago’s Southwest Side since the 1950s.

Most of its workers are African American or Latino, many live in neighborhoods near the bakery, and quite a few have worked at the bakery for decades.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the Chicago bakery has been “crucial to Mondelez’s North American bakery business in part due to its location and because its skilled workers know how to make a variety of cookies and crackers.”

BCTGM says that the timing of the Chicago layoffs suggests that the company is trying to gain leverage just as Mondelez and BCTGM begin a round of negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement that covers 2,200 BCTGM members who work for Mondelez  at six locations across the US.

The union’s boycott campaign will give workers and consumers across the country an opportunity to stand in solidarity with laid off Mondelez workers and those who remain on the job but are facing the possibility of more cuts to their wages and benefits.

“(Mondelez) wants Americans to buy Oreo, Ritz Crackers, and Chips Ahoy, but (the company) isn’t interested in investing in Americans to make them,” said Head. “(Mondelez) wants to box up our decades of experience and use it to exploit the good people of Mexico.”