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Photo: More Perfect Union Twitter
During the pandemic, workers often endured 12-16 hour shifts for seven days a week. Photo: More Perfect Union Twitter

The Nabisco strike going nationwide

Workers at factories in Oregon, Colorado and Virginia are striking to demand better pay, benefits, and more.

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Hundreds of workers at Nabisco — the creator of popular snacks like Oreo cookies, Ritz Crackers and Chips Ahoy! — have gone on strike, citing concerns about pay, hours, benefits and more. 

The strike began at a Nabisco factory in Portland, Oregon last week and has now spread to factory locations in Aurora, Colorado, and Richmond, Virginia. 

The workers on strike belong to the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), and expressed exasperation from the grueling demands and lack of work-life balance. 

VICE News spoke to many of these striking union members, and they expressed their frustration with having to work 12-16 hour shifts during the pandemic, often for six or seven days a week. 

Nabisco has reportedly proposed turning eight-hour shifts into 12-hour shifts without overtime, increasing mandatory weekend work, and establishing a two-tier healthcare plan that is significantly more expensive for new hires. 

Nathan Williams, an oiler who has devoted 30 years of his life to the Nabisco plant in Richmond, told VICE that the main objective of the strike is to negotiate for a fair contract. 

“During the pandemic, we came in seven days a week. Some people worked every day—16 hours a day—for three months," Williams said. 

Williams also said that his facility had pushed extra hours onto workers instead of hiring new workers. 

“For them, it’s all about finding the cheapest way to make cookies,” he said. 

Nabisco workers are confronting years of deteriorating working conditions, the elimination of pensions, health care benefit cuts, and the looming threat of factory closures. 

Despite the record profits the snacks giant pulled in during the pandemic — with a revenue rise bringing it to $26.6 billion in 2020 — the company is actively trying to worsen the living standards of its employees with even less mercy than in previous contracts. 

For instance, in 2016, the parent company of Nabisco, Mondelez International, cut half of Nabisco’s production lines at its Chicago plant, laying off over 400 workers. It also led to the closure of plants in Fairlawn, New Jersey and Atlanta, Georgia, slashing over 1,000 jobs in total. 

Then in 2018, the company terminated the pensions of thousands of workers and retirees instead of shifting to a 401(k) plan, two years after the contract with the BCTGM union expired. 

The Nabisco strike occurs as minimum wage workers across the U.S. are demanding better pay, schedules, benefits and work-life balance from their employers. 

Last month, Frito-Lay employees at a plant in Topeka, Kansas, who belong to the same union as Nabisco workers, went on strike to demand an end to triple overtime shifts, referred to as “suicides.” 

In recent days, the 24-hour picket lines outside Nabisco facilities in Portland, Aurora and Richmond have attracted hundreds of workers, community members and politicians, who have brought water and snacks. 

The Frito-Lay workers from Kansas sent pizzas, and members of other unions have shown up to pickets. There have been line dances that went viral, rallies and incessant honking from cars in passing. 

Mike Burlingham, a Nabisco worker in pest control at the Portland facility, told VICE that the mandatory overtime has made it nearly impossible for workers to maintain a semblance of a normal life outside of work. 

"You get tired, you want to be home with your family, but it’s extremely hard to have life outside of work," Burlingham said.

On Monday, Aug. 16, a spokesperson for Nabisco released a statement saying that the company is “disappointed” by the local BCTGM unions’ decision to go on 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,” the statement read.

Cameron Taylor, a business agent at BCTGM, and grain Millers Local 364 in Portland, told VICE that people are finally walking off the job after too many years of misery and concession after concession to the company. 

“I’ve never seen them so happy. People are smiling and laughing, dancing, and playing music,” Taylor said. 

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