Steven James has been working as a machine operator making Oreos, Chips Ahoy! and other Nabisco snacks at a plant in Richmond, Va. for 20 years.
On Aug. 16, James joined about 1,000 of his fellow union members in five states and walked off the job to protest what they say are “unfair” demands for concessions in contract negotiations with Nabisco's parent company Mondelez International (MDLZ). James, who isn't working another job, said he plans to stay out of the plant until a fair contract is signed.
“We're not asking for a lot,” James told Yahoo Finance Live. “We just want a fair contract.”
As America’s appetite for snack foods has grown during the pandemic, James said he and his colleagues on the frontlines have been working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week.
“It was just constant. Never had time to spend with the kids. Never had time to spend with the family,” he said.
The walkout began on Aug. 10 at a biscuit bakery in Portland, Ore., and has since spread to Aurora, Colo., Richmond, Va., Chicago, Addison, Illinois, and Norcross, Ga. Union members in those states have been working without a contract since May and are represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM).
James said he was given one-time “hazard pay” of $300 earlier this year for working long hours during the pandemic while “some of the supervisors, they got $10,000."
"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,” he added.
The strike has not affected Nabisco’s ability to churn out popular snacks during the pandemic, since Mondelez International has been using non-union workers at plants where there have been walkouts.
James said he and his union members are asking customers to show their support by boycotting the snack giant.
“We try to tell everyone, do not buy any Nabisco products at this time, because we are on strike,” said. James. “The community has really shown us some support. We have businesses and our local brothers and sisters have really been giving us a lot of support, and they are with us walking on the line as well.”
In a statement, Mondelez said, “Our goal has been — and continues to be — to bargain in good faith with the BCTGM leadership… while also taking steps to modernize some contract aspects which were written several decades ago.”
'Keep our jobs here in the U.S.'
Union workers also want Mondelez to restore their pensions, which were replaced by a 401(k) plan in 2018.
Striking workers are also protesting two factory closures in February in Atlanta, Georgia and Fair Lawn, New Jersey, a move the union says is part of a larger plan to transfer low-wage jobs to Mexico.
“They closed two of our plants and they sent the product to Mexico,” said James. “We just want to keep our jobs here in the U.S.”
In a statement, BCTGM International President Anthony Shelton said union workers “are telling Nabisco to put an end to the outsourcing of jobs to Mexico and get off the ridiculous demand for contract concessions at a time when the company is making record profits.”
Mondelez International’s net income climbed 98% in the quarter ended in June to $1.1 billion, while sales climbed 12.4% to $6.6 billion, compared to the same time a year ago.
Mondelez denies that any jobs went to Mexico as a result of the recent factory shutdowns in Georgia and New Jersey. Company spokeswoman Laurie Guzzinati told Yahoo Finance that production at the shuttered facilities has been absorbed by existing bakeries in Portland and Richmond. Some Oreo production was shifted to Mexico in 2016, a move that Donald Trump criticized as a presidential candidate.
Alexis Christoforous is an anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AlexisTVNews.