Union workers at Mondelez bakery in Chicago go on strike
August 19, 2021
Workers at Mondelez’s Chicago bakery went on strike Thursday afternoon to protest company demands for concessions in contract negotiations.
The strike at Mondelez’s bakery in the Marquette Park neighborhood, where about 500 employees produce Nabisco cookies and crackers such as Wheat Thins and Nutter Butters, follows similar strikes by Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union employees in Oregon, Virginia and Colorado.
Employees plan to strike until they come to an agreement on a “fair and decent contract,” said Veronica Hopkins, business agent and organizer for the BCTGM Local 1.
“We worked through COVID, we made them the profits and they don’t want to share them,” Hopkins said.
The contract, which expired in May, covers employees at six Mondelez sites nationwide: three bakeries and three sales distribution centers. Union employees at Mondelez’s Naperville site, which makes Triscuits, have a different contract and are not part of these negotiations.
Mondelez, which is based in Chicago, said it was “disappointed” by the local unions’ decision to strike.
“Our goal has been — and continues to be — to bargain in good faith with the BCTGM leadership across our U.S. bakeries and sales distribution facilities to reach new contracts that continue to provide our employees with good wages and competitive benefits, including quality, affordable health care, and company-sponsored Enhanced Thrift Investment 401(k) Plan, while also taking steps to modernize some contract aspects which were written several decades ago,” the company said in a statement.
It wasn’t clear how many employees were participating, but Hopkins said most of the employees who were at work this afternoon walked out. The union represents 345 people in Chicago, she said.
Each site had business continuity plans to keep production going, said Mondelez spokeswoman Laurie Guzzinati. All have salaried workers who are not part of the union, including people who have had careers in manufacturing and know the production lines, she said.
“Our focus is our commitment to customers and to provide the products they know and love,” she said.
Union members have not yet voted on a contract. The most recent bargaining sessions were held in late July and future sessions have not yet been scheduled.
Mondelez said its latest offer includes annual wage increases and an increase in the 401(k) match and dropped an earlier proposal that would have allowed the use of temporary employees.
Still, the union objected to provisions seeking concessions on health care benefits and making changes to schedules and overtime rules.
The company eliminated an earlier proposal that would have affected current employees’ health benefits but still requires new hires to pay “modest contributions” to their health benefits, something already required by the Naperville site’s contract, Guzzinati said.
The union also opposed new schedules that would see some employees — a small number of people working on high-demand production lines, according to Guzzinati — work 12-hour shifts, alternating three and four days per week, and the elimination of guaranteed weekend overtime, Hopkins said.
According to Mondelez, employees would still receive overtime after working eight hours in a day, after working 40 hours in a week, or on their sixth consecutive day of work. The proposed changes are meant to encourage employees to work their regularly scheduled weekday shifts and provide “greater predictability,” Guzzinati said.
One reason employees might miss a shift is because they are frequently required to work overtime because the company hasn’t been hiring enough people to keep up with demand, Hopkins said.
“At some point, you’re going to take a day off,” she said.