Chicago Tribune Commentary by President Durkee and AFL-CIO President Trumka
Oreos are incredibly popular, one of America’s top guilty pleasures.
But we soon might not be able to stomach them, if the iconic cookies don’t sustain good jobs in the United States.
As part of the relentless killing of American manufacturing, Nabisco plans to cut in half the workforce at its largest domestic bakery, in Chicago, and send some 600 jobs to Mexico, where pay is so low that the minimum wage is measured by the day, not the hour. The daily minimum is about $4.
The company has already sent thousands of jobs offshore, by shuttering factories in Pittsburgh, Houston and Philadelphia.
On Chicago’s South Side, about 1,200 workers have been baking chocolate wafers and mixing the cream filling for Oreo cookies for decades at a plant on South Kedzie Avenue. The whole neighborhood smells fantastic.
Last summer, managers held a companywide meeting. The workers expected to hear updates for a planned $130 million upgrade to the facility.
Instead, the company demanded its workers swallow $46 million in wage and benefit cuts. Otherwise, the investment would go south of the U.S. border, said Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of Mondelez International, which owns Nabisco. Rosenfeld received almost $200 million over the past eight years in pay and benefits.
This is how CEOs use a bad trade deal as a club to beat workers.
Sure enough, at the end of July, managers announced a plan to shift some production from Chicago to a factory in Salinas, Mexico.
And once that facility begins to make Oreos and other treats, 600 employees in Chicago will lose their jobs, said managers at Mondelez, the global food giant.
People were shocked.
Bad corporate trade deals have been used by CEOs for 20 years to lower pay and offshore jobs. It’s become the go-to strategy for CEOs across America. One corporate trade deal called the North American Free Trade Agreement rigged our economy to punish workers who get good pay and reward companies that offshore jobs.
These trade deals were sold to the public as a way to grow our economy, raise wages and create jobs. The opposite has been true. More than 50,000 factories closed in the United States in just one 10-year span, ending in 2010. That’s 15 every single day. More than 5 million jobs were lost as outsourcing became a fad. Inflation-adjusted wages for most Americans have been essentially flat since NAFTA went into effect.
America needs good jobs.
When jobs go overseas, it devastates communities and families, as well as state and county tax bases. The loss of good, high-wage industrial jobs is at the heart of the decline of the American middle class.
They send our jobs wherever the deal is sweetest: Mexico, China, Vietnam, India, Korea, Colombia, you name it.
And now another bad trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership threatens to make the American labor market even worse.
Last year, Washington insiders were stunned when the public stood up against the TPP, which temporarily slowed a routine procedural vote. The trade deal has since stalled for lack of support.
As painful as the outsourcing epidemic is, it’s also ironic, because it hurts the companies that do it. Closing plants is not the best way to generate stronger revenue. Analysts have shown that Mondelez can save huge sums by cutting its portfolio of products, reducing its suppliers and aligning its advertising budget with the industry norm.
Even worse, outsourcing puts the popularity of Mondelez crackers and cookies at risk by moving more production to Mexico with its lax environmental regulations, lack of workers’ rights and weak rules on safety and health.
Too often, companies realize too late that a dedicated and well-trained workforce is an asset, not simply a liability on a company’s bottom line.
Oreos are quintessentially American, and should remain so.
We plan to end the era of bad corporate trade deals. We’re going to kill the TPP. And after the presidential election, we’ll demand that NAFTA gets fixed or scrapped.