Oreo bakers’ union files lawsuit against Mondelēz

By Douglas Yu

- Last updated on GMT

Union seeks injunction to block Oreo capacity shift to Mexico. Photo: iStock - chiarabramuzzo
Union seeks injunction to block Oreo capacity shift to Mexico. Photo: iStock - chiarabramuzzo

Related tags Trade union Collective bargaining Chicago

Mondelēz International faces a court case brought by disgruntled employees at its plant in Chicago, half of whom will lose their jobs after the company shifted the factory’s Oreo production to Mexico.

Last year, the US biscuits market leader said 600 of the plant’s 1,200 employees would be laid off.

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union’s (BCTGM), which represents 1,000 members at the Mondelēz Nabisco Bakery in Chicago, filed legal action against Mondelēz late last month.

It alleges the company excluded union workers from bargaining meetings before taking the decision to relocate Oreo production to Mexico. It hopes to block the move.

Mondelēz refused to comment on pending litigation, but said the move to a modernized facility in Mexico would save the company around $46m a year. It intends to vigorously defend the case.

Why Chicago?

BCTGM campaign coordinator, Ron Baker, told this site Mondelēz has eight Oreo production plants across the US, among which the Chicago location has the highest number of minority workers and workers who are aged over 40.

Jesus Herrera

Twenty-six year old Jesus Herrera will be among the first wave of workers laid off at Mondelēz’s Chicago facility. Spending almost three hours on the road every day, Herrera told ConfectioneryNews he works the night shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m at the Chicago plant to pay the rent, support his three children, and to pay for his wife’s tuition for her nursing program. Herrera’s wife has now put the program on hold. The worker said his life is now uncertain, and says the  only chance for him to get back on track is by participating in  Mondelēz’s two-month workshop after he gets laid off. The two-month workshop, according to Herrara, is designed by Mondelēz to help laid off workers find jobs.

Mondelēz’s senior director of corporate and government affairs North America, Laurie Guzzinati, also confirmed with ConfectioneryNews the Chicago plant has the greatest number of employees overall within the company's bakery network.

Last summer, when Mondelēz met with three unions, including BCTGM, the company brought up an investment opportunity related to new manufacturing lines in either the Chicago bakery or the Salina manufacturing facility in Mexico, according to Guzzinati.

Mondelēz chose to invest in four new lines in Mexico, which will replace nine older existing manufacturing lines currently in Chicago. Guzzinati said the move would save the company about $46m per year.

Asked whether the company was aware its Chicago bakery has the highest number of minority workers compared to other US plants before making the decision, Guzzinati said it was simply a decision made between the two existing factories.

Baker of the BCTGM said: “They knew all along that their request for these extreme wage and benefit demands as a trade-off for new technology improvements in Chicago could never be accepted by the union and its membership."

Complaints submitted; lawsuit filed

Baker said, in January this year, almost 450 complaints signed by factory workers have been filed to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

In one of the complaints seen by this site, it says, “Our facility has over 950 BCTGM Local 300 bargaining unit members of which over 650 are African American or Latino and over 700 are over age 40… We have been treated differently than other plants based on our ethnicity and age.”

The lawsuit against Mondelēz was filed around the same time in the Northern District Court of Illinois. Baker said the lawsuit is about the union seeking an injunction to prevent the company from moving work to Mexico.

However, Guzzinati refused to comment on the pending legal matters.

The court held the first hearing on January 27, and is still waiting for Mondelēz’s response on February 22, according to Redmond. 

Entering behind-the-door negotiations

There are eight collective bargaining agreements between Mondelēz and the BCTGM in the country, which expire on February 29 this year, covering approximately 2,400 BCTGM union-represented employees, according to Guzzinati.

On February 16, Mondelēz began its negotiations in North Carolina with BCTGM in hopes of securing new contracts prior to when the current contracts expire, she said.

Both Mondelēz and Baker declined to comment on the details of their negotiations. However, Guzzinati said all the updates related to the negotiations will be on their website​.

“We will vigorously defend against BCTGM Local 300’s allegations,”​ she added. “The Company does not discriminate and the EEOC charges have no merit.”

Common ground: bashing Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, has threatened not to eat Oreo cookies because Mondelēz is moving American jobs abroad, according to multiple Trump’s rally videos​. In this, Baker and Guzzinati are able to find common ground.

“He has said inaccuracies related to our announced investment and Oreo production,”​ Guzzinati said, explaining Trump’s comments are incorrect in that the Chicago bakery is not closing first of all, and second, Oreo cookies are made and will continue to be made at a number of their US manufacturing sites, including bakeries in Fair Lawn, NJ, Richmond, VA and Portland, OR.

Even though Baker agreed Trump has raised awareness, he said fighting for union workers for Trump is theater rather than authentic.

“It is not about his desire to see people treated right or to keep workers here and across borders or oceans from being exploited as these companies suck the very essence out of society,”​ he said. “If it were, he would be making his clothing line in the USA and not in Mexico.”

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