Labor solidarity and what it can accomplish was the subject from three different speakers during the MTD Convention in Philadelphia.
Bakery Workers (BCTGM) International Secretary-Treasurer David Woods, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Assistant to the Executive Vice President Adriana O’Hagan and Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO President Pat Eiding all expressed their appreciation to the department, its affiliates and its Port Maritime Councils for various campaigns.
Woods spoke on June 9 about four major strikes experienced by BCTGM members during the COVID pandemic. In all four cases, Woods reported members were tired from working extensive overtime while feeling disrespected by the companies when the time came to negotiate new contracts.
When the pandemic hit, Woods said 98 percent of BCTGM members were working, producing food and goods for those at home and unable to go to their jobs. Because of the situation, the union delayed many 2020 contract negotiations for a year.
In the summer of 2021, BCTGM members working for Frito-Lay in Kansas had had enough. More than 500 workers struck for 20 days after working what Woods called “suicide shifts,” where the workers put in extensive overtime before returning for their regular shift without even having time to relax or take a shower. He said support came from the Labor Movement, community groups, local businesses and others.
The workers “held their labor and they won,” Woods reported.
Next came Mondelez/Nabisco. Woods noted the company has gone from 20 bakeries in the United States and Canada to only three in the U.S. He said the company “has been on the attack on workers, closing facilities and moving a lot of jobs to Mexico with low wages.”
He reported Nabisco announced factory closures during 2020-21 in order to scare the workers at the three remaining sites. Instead, 1000 workers at bakeries in Chicago, Portland, OR, and Richmond, VA, decided to strike after the company proposed a two-tier wage/benefit package. Soon more members at Nabisco depots in Colorado and Georgia joined the fight.
Woods stated they were out for 39 days. In fact, Liz Shuler marched with the Richmond strikers just hours after she was elected president of the AFL-CIO.
“We won; the company got nothing,” Woods told the delegates. “Better wages and no two-tier.”
Then 1200 BCTGM members at five Kellogg cereal plants said walked out when the company wanted givebacks and a two-tier system while reporting record profits. Woods pointed out that the Kellogg’s workers are multi-generational. The present members would not stand for reducing wages and benefits for their younger family members entering the workforce.
During this strike, Woods told the delegates U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh marched with members in Pennsylvania, Shuler stood with workers in the rain in Nebraska, MTD Executive Secretary-Treasurer Daniel Duncan hit the lines in Michigan, and President Biden wrote a letter to the company calling on it to end the strike.
After 77 days, Bakery Workers returned to their jobs. “The company got zero,” Woods declared to applause.
The fourth job action took place in Los Angeles in November when 150 workers who produced ice cream cakes for Jon Donaire hit the bricks. Woods said the workforce of women remained strong throughout the more than 100-day strike, including blocking scabs from entering the worksite.
Once again, Shuler came out to support the workers. Local unions, including members affiliated with the Southern California Port Council, marched in solidarity. And, once again, the BCTGM members won.
Woods noted the union had completed more than 100 other contracts during the pandemic. He said none of it would have happened without the help of Labor Movement, “Thank you for your support and sharing.”
He wrapped up by reviewing the efforts of Philadelphia BCTGM members and their company who donated 14,000 pounds of baked goods through the Delaware Valley Port Council to the citizens of Puerto Rico after the January 2020 earthquakes. He thanked all the unions who made sure the supplies got to where they were needed.
Prior to Sister O’Hagan’s remarks on June 10, delegates watched a video of AFT members and Seafarers distributing thousands of books to children across Puerto Rico. “It gives you an idea how unions, our unions, are changing lives in Puerto Rico,” stated MTD President Michael Sacco.
O’Hagan told the convention “none of what you saw in that video could have been possible without the collaboration and the energy and the love that [the Puerto Rico Ports Council] has given us throughout these four years.”
The work between the AFT and the Port Council started in 2017 after hurricanes ravaged the island. “I speak about the four-year partnership with the Maritime Trades,” she said. “The most important thing about that is every time we called for assistance, [PMC President] Amancio [Crespo] was there.”
She described the multi-union effort to provide UA-made water filters across the commonwealth. The Port Council and its affiliates delivered “throughout the island, reaching places that weren’t reachable – hospitals, schools, homes and everywhere that our citizens needed that service.”
After the 2020 earthquakes, the Teachers asked the Port Council, the Seafarers Union and Jones Act carriers Crowley and TOTE to deliver badly needed supplies. She recalled about 80 school buildings were destroyed.
“We saw the need, we contacted Amancio and were able to get 100 tents into Puerto Rico to set up classrooms,” O’Hagan reported. “The students didn’t have backpacks, no books, nothing. So we drove in with enormous amounts of supplies for the students.
“As a teacher, you don’t ever forget what another person does for your students,” O’Hagan stated.
Regarding the book drive, she asked the delegates “to imagine 10,000 books. It’s not easy to move 10,000 books. Every time we called Amancio, he said ‘yes. Let me get my guys.’”
She told the delegates that the AFT “supports the Jones Act. We are very, very supportive of U.S.-flag shipping, the unions and the companies like Crowley and TOTE.
“The work we are doing with the Seafarers Union has changed many lives. Those books mean the world to those kids. They are waiting in line, excited to get a book because we are going to the most remote areas in Puerto Rico where there are no cell phones, no I-pads, nothing else.
“What we are doing is showing these children that somebody cares about them. And that when we work together, we accomplish so much more than if we were doing it ourselves,” she concluded.
On behalf of the 110 affiliates of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO representing 200,000 union members, Brother Eiding welcomed the delegates to Philadelphia on June 9. He saluted Delaware Valley PMC Secretary-Treasurer Joe Baselice for the Port Council’s work in the community.
Eiding urged the delegates to support AFSCME members fighting for a first contract at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “We must work together to stay a labor union town,” he declared.