In mid-2021, American cookie- and snack-manufacturing giant Nabisco halted production at two facilities—one in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, and another in Atlanta, Georgia—putting a thousand union employees out of work. Claiming that the shuttered bakeries “are no longer strategic assets from a geographic footprint perspective,” Nabisco’s parent company Mondelez International shifted the workload to Nabisco bakeries in Portland, Oregon; Richmond, Virginia; and Chicago, Illinois. These remaining Nabisco bakeries continue to churn out products such as Oreo cookies, Fig Newtons, and Ritz Crackers—with crews often working 12-16-hour shifts, seven days a week, to meet quarantined Americans’ increased demand for snack foods.
The pandemic has resulted in a profit bonanza for Mondelez. According to Chicago Business Journal, the company’s 2020 revenue of $26.6 billion represented a significant increase from the previous year. Profits soared—made possible by dedicated workers putting in long hours with no days off to meet the country’s increased demand for Nabisco products.
During the summer of 2021, contract negotiations between Mondelez and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) started to break down. The two sides couldn’t come to an agreement on a range of issues, including pension benefits, health care, mandatory weekend work, and overtime pay. On Aug. 10, 2021, about 200 members of Local 364, in Portland, Oregon, walked off the job and began picketing outside the plant—initiating the first strike action at Nabisco in 52 years.
The strike soon spread to the company’s locations in Aurora, Colorado; Richmond, Virginia; Norcross, Georgia; Addison, Illinois; and Chicago, Illinois. By the end of August, over a thousand workers had joined the strike, which now involved all Nabisco bakeries and distribution facilities in the United States.
The walkout at the Nabisco plant on the Southwest Side of Chicago, at 7300 S. Kedzie Avenue, began on Aug. 19, and involved 325 members of BCTGM Local 1. According to Local 1 member Veronica Hopkins, “Membership is hoping that the company comes back to the table with some realistic terms. The membership feels as though the company is disloyal and greedy. Just months ago, the members were essential workers that worked through life-threatening Covid conditions, but now at contract time they’re being called spoiled brats by the company. Members don’t know what to expect from the company but they’re remaining optimistic because the company hasn’t been able to produce regularly since the strike began.”
Below you will find some of the 325 members of Local 1 in Chicago—workers continuing to strike for a more just contract. Many members’ signs include drawings of rats, a warning for outside workers to honor the picket line and reject offers of work at the plant during the strike.
As of Tuesday, Sept. 14, the company and the union bargaining team reached a tentative agreement that membership will be voting on in the coming days.