AFL-CIO president tells striking Mondelez workers in Henrico that it is ‘fed up with the way you have been treated’

AFL-CIO president tells striking Mondelez workers in Henrico that it is ‘fed up with the way you have been treated’

American union workers are fed up with skyrocketing inequality and runaway corporate greed, and they are standing up for their rights, the new president of the AFL-CIO union federation said.

 

Liz Shuler told about two dozen striking workers at Mondelez International Inc.’s bakery plant in eastern Henrico County on Wednesday afternoon that their sacrifice is important for all workers.

 

“The entire labor movement is the symbolism here that they’re standing up for,” said Shuler, who became the first woman to lead the AFL-CIO when she took over last month following the death of longtime president Richard Trumka.

 

“They’re taking tremendous courage to walk out and walk these picket lines because they know if they don’t take a stand, then wages and conditions continue to erode and that has an effect on everyone in this country,” she said. “We are fed up with the way you have been treated.”

 

More than 400 hourly employees at the plant on Laburnum Avenue — and at two other Mondelez bakeries and at three distribution centers across the country — have been on strike since last month, seeking increased pay, improved benefits and better working conditions.

 

Mondelez, one of the world’s largest snack companies, and the union have been negotiating a new four-year contract since the old one expired at the end of May. The union membership has not voted on a contract.

 

The Henrico plant makes popular snack foods such as Oreo cookies, Ritz crackers and Chips Ahoy! cookies.

 

The plant had been owned by Nabisco and later by Kraft Foods Inc. It now is part of Mondelez, which was created when Kraft Foods split into two companies in 2012.

 

The company, Shuler said, made huge profits last year because employees worked around the clock to make snacks, cookies and crackers during the pandemic. The company generated a global net profit of $3.6 billion in 2020, down from $3.9 billion in the previous year, according to regulatory filings.

 

“The workers were the ones that got this company through the pandemic, yet they enrich themselves and are not providing a fair return for the people who made the sacrifice,” Shuler said. “This is something we’ve seen across the country that corporations will continue to line their pockets” while “the working people who actually make the company successful aren’t getting a fair return on their work.”

 

By having a union, she said, workers are fighting back through collective bargaining to get better wages and benefits and safety protections.

 

“They can take a stand when they see things going downhill. But most of America doesn’t have a union and doesn’t have that voice, and so that’s the other thing is we are showing here that it matters to come together collectively to have that leverage, that power when you come together to be able to leverage better conditions, better wages and health benefits,” she said. “This strike is bringing national attention because they’re risking it all and they shouldn’t be alone.”

 

Mondelez spokesperson Laurie M. Guzzinati said the company is “very disappointed” that the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union, which is one of the AFL-CIO’s 56 unions, decided to strike.

 

“No one wins in a strike,” Guzzinati said. “We’re committed to good-faith bargaining, and it’s important that we can get to new contracts so that everyone can get back to business. The goal is to move forward.”

 

Last week, Mondelez had offered the union a contract that included no change to health care benefits for current employees, a $5,000 ratification bonus per employee, and hourly wage increases each year of the proposed contract term. The offer expired earlier this week.

 

“It wasn’t a legitimate offer,” said David Woods, the union’s international secretary-treasurer who is chief negotiator. “They haven’t presented some of the stuff they put in it to the union committee, so we couldn’t take it to the workers because we couldn’t explain it to the workers.”

 

The union and the company are slated to continue negotiations on Monday and Tuesday.

 

“A good contract would be to keep what they [workers] got and give them a decent raise. That’s all we’ve asked for this contract,” Woods said.

 

“The company is going to have to come to the table and get serious about what it’s going to take, but our people are expecting more,” he said. “They’ve worked through this pandemic, they worked hard in this pandemic, and they deserve their fair share of those profits.”

 

The union also said the strike is starting to cause production problems and supply issues, saying some supermarkets across the country are out of popular cookies and crackers. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that some grocers were starting to prepare for possible snack shortages as the Mondelez strike continued by stocking up on Oreo cookies, Ritz crackers and other popular brands.

 

Despite the strike, the three bakery plants remained fully operational and continue making cookies and crackers, Guzzinati said. Mondelez is utilizing business continuity plans.

“From a consumer and customer perspective, each of the sites is prioritizing production so that they can continue to meet the needs of the marketplace and our retail customers and so that all of our friends and family can continue to enjoy the cookies and crackers they love,” Guzzinati said.

 

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