Souring Chicago’s Sweet Treat
For generations, kids from age 3 to 100 have loved munching on chocolaty Oreo cookies dipped in a glass of milk. But just over a year ago, the tasty treat suddenly went sour.
In May 2015, bakery workers in Nabisco’s monumental 10-story plant in Chicago’s Marquette Park neighborhood had been expecting some sweet news from their corporate headquarters. Rumor had it that their renown facility — after more than half a century and millions of Oreos — was about to receive a $130-million modernization investment to upgrade equipment and to add new production lines. So, the future looked bright and spirits were high on May 15 of last year when management convened members of Local 300 of the Bakery Workers Union to announce that the investment was indeed going to be made.
In Salinas, Mexico.
For decades, the Marquette Park community has been proud that the delectable smell of “milk’s favorite cookie” wafts through their neighborhood. But the noses of Nabisco’s corporate brass are clogged with greed, incapable of sniffing out anything but ever-fatter profits for themselves and other rich shareholders. Taking the NAFTA low road, they intend to move the iconic Oreo brand — and the jobs of 600 top-quality bakery workers — from Chicago to Mexico, where the minimum wage is a bit more than $4. Not per hour, but per day.
This is the tyranny of corporate globalization in action. In 2012 Kraft Foods split off its grocery business, which retained the Kraft name, and rebranded its remaining snack-food empire as Mondelez International, which includes Nabisco and its many brands including Triscuit, Planters nuts, Ritz crackers, Chips Ahoy and Oreos.
Such corporate empires now reign over millions of working families, arrogantly and even lawlessly making self-serving decisions from within the shrouded confines of faraway executive suites — wreaking havoc on workers, local economies, democratic values, and our sense of community. People affected are given no input or warning (much less any real say-so) in the profiteering that now routinely strikes us, like a lightning bolt from hell.
Worse, the so-called humans who’ve enthroned themselves with this autocratic power find it amusing to toy with those they rule over. Mondelez executives did exactly that after their sneak attack on Chicago’s bakery workers. In a crude ploy to shift blame for the loss of jobs to the union, the plutocratic powerhouse claimed it had made an offer to Local 300 to keep producing Oreos in Chicago, but that recalcitrant union officials refused.
Of course they did, for Mondelez essentially proposed that the workers commit mass financial suicide. Here’s the “offer”: Since the move to Mexico is expected to save $46 million a year, the conglomerate would graciously let the 600 ransom their jobs by paying that $46 million themselves. Just slash your annual pay and benefits (as well as your throats) by that amount, the executives told the union, and you can keep making Oreos for us.
This act was an astonishing, unprecedented insulting slap in the face of every middle-class worker in the U.S. Mondelez sapsuckers were effectively demanding that longtime, dedicated, productive employees subsidize the conglomerate and ransom their livelihoods by reducing their income to poverty. Note that Mondelez banked $7 billion in profit last year.
If its executives are so inept that they can’t find an honest way to fill a $46-million hole, they should dock the pay of their top three executives by that amount. They can damn sure afford it, for they totaled $37 million in compensation last year. CEO Irene Rosenfeld alone took a $20 million paycheck in 2015, bringing her eight-year total pay and benefits to almost $200 million.
I’d say her gluttony is hoggish, but I don’t want to offend swine. Swine have better manners and a more delicate appetite than that. To learn more, visit www.fightforamericanjobs.org/check-the-label.
Photo via timlewisnm / Flickr