Steven James, Nabisco Machine Operator, Richmond Va. BCTGM Local 358, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss U.S. Nabisco workers’ strike over ‘unfair’ contract negotiations.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Union workers who make Oreos, Chips Ahoy and other Nabisco snacks, are on strike in five states over what they say are unfair demands for concessions in contract negotiations with parent company, Mondelez International. Joining me now is one of those union workers, Steven James. He is a machine operator at Nabisco in Richmond, Virginia. He's been on strike there with his colleagues since August 16. Steven, thanks so much for joining us and for making time for us. I understand that you've been working without a contract since May. What are the main sticking points for you and your fellow members that made you decide to strike?
STEVEN JAMES: Well, actually, we pretty much, we're not asking for a lot. We just pretty much want to keep things the same. We just want a fair contract. And again, the company, what they're doing is basically, they closed two of our plants and they sent the product to Mexico. So we just want to keep our jobs here in the US in a fair contract. And again, we're not asking for a lot. We're pretty much just asking for just pretty much things stay the same.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Are one of those plants that would be moved to Mexico, Steven, are they there in Richmond, Virginia? And would they impact you personally?
STEVEN JAMES: Well, actually, everything impact us, especially when they move in to Mexico. But no. they didn't close our plant here. They closed two of our plants and then they sent all the product to again, Mexico.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: So I know that you've been putting in really long hours, especially during the pandemic, you and your colleagues. We've seen lots of folks buying up those snacks like Nabisco snacks during the pandemic as comfort food. Talk to me a little bit about the working conditions. How many hours were you working? Did you get any sort of hazard pay or extra pay because of the extra work you were doing during the pandemic?
STEVEN JAMES: Well, actually, no. Well, we did, I'm sorry. So we were working 12 hour days, 12 hour days and seven days a week. It was just constant. Again, never had time to spend with the kids. Never had time to spend with the family. And of course, we had, I think they paid us $300 as far as the hazard pay. And some of the supervisors, they get $10,000, as far as hazard pay. So again, it's not that us. We're the ones that's doing all the work and just to work, is really, really tiresome, working all those hours.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Steven, just to be clear, was that a $300, was that like a one-time payment? Or were you getting that weekly? What was that like?
STEVEN JAMES: That was a one-time payment, that is correct, yes, ma'am.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: A one-time payment of $300.
STEVEN JAMES: $300.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: OK. I want you talk a little--
STEVEN JAMES: I'm sorry, go ahead.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Yeah, go ahead, Steven.
STEVEN JAMES: No, I was saying, risking their lives with the pandemic thing, we was actually coming in every day, and we had some management working from home. So, of course they were good, they were safe. We risk our lives coming out every day working all those hours and again, seven days a week. So it was--
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: What were the conditions like there in the factories in the distribution centers? Were you able to, and are you still able to socially distance? Do you have to wear masks? Are they asking to see if workers have been vaccinated?
STEVEN JAMES: Oh, yeah. Actually, we still have to wear masks, yes, we do. But it's kind of hard, especially if you're trying to have a conversation or trying to tell someone something. It's really hard to social distance yourself. Because again, we have all this PPE on and have ear plugs on, and it's really hard to hear, especially with the machinery running as well. So we did, but it was just kind of hard. It was a challenge.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Now are you asking people, just average everyday people who buy Nabisco products to help in any way? Would you ask them to boycott Nabisco and not buy those products while these negotiations are going on?
STEVEN JAMES: Absolutely. Yes, ma'am. And we try to get that message across. We try to tell everyone, do not buy any Nabisco products at this time, because we are on strike. And the community has really been well. They really showed us some support. And we have businesses and our local brothers and sisters has really been giving us a lot of support. And they are with us walking on the line as well.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: You know, I just want to quickly read part of a statement that Mondelez International sent. And they said, "we're taking steps to modernize some contract aspects, which were written several decades ago." Are one of those aspects their move to a 401(k) plan and no longer having a pension plan? Because I got tell you, Steven, I'm sure you know you're not alone. Lots of industries, like the airline industry, they've done away with those so-called legacy costs, because the companies just couldn't afford them. Is that one of the things you and your workers are asking for is the reinstatement of pension plans?
STEVEN JAMES: Oh, absolutely, yeah. In 2016, the company stop investing in the pension plan. There was only the 401(k). They want us to make weekly payments for the benefits. And pretty much, they just trying to conquer and divide. But, yeah, that's basically what we're asking for, to reinstate it.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right, Steven James, best of luck to you and your fellow union workers there at Nabisco. And again, thanks so much for being with us today. We appreciate it.