Conditions that sparked strikes at Nabisco, Frito Lay have ‘spread’ to Minnesota, union warns

Old Dutch workers, members of BCTGM Local 22, gather outside the union’s offices in Minneapolis.

Members of Bakery Confectionary, Tobacco and Grain Millers Local 22 who work at Old Dutch are gearing up for contract talks this fall, in which they intend to push the company to ease increasingly taxing workloads.

That’s the same rallying cry sounded by union members who went on strike at Frito Lay and Nabisco in other parts of the U.S. this year, drawing nationwide attention.

“We recently had over 50 members in our parking lot on a Saturday morning, their only day off of the week,” Local 22 President Wally Borgen said. “These members are angry because they’re working a lot of overtime, and they say the company doesn’t pay enough to recruit and retain workers.”

The dissatisfaction over unsafe workloads and lack of work-life balance among food-processing workers, Borgen said, “has spread to Local 22 in a big way.”

Borgen said negotiations with Old Dutch have been respectful in recent years, giving him hope Local 22 can avoid the drastic measures Nabisco and Frito Lay forced workers to take.

But Local 22 members in other bargaining units might not be so lucky.

Cub Foods’ parent company, UNFI, is threatening to stop paying into a union pension fund covering about 230 bakers at corporate-owned stores in Minnesota, according to Local 22, which began contract negotiations with UNFI last month.

Not all Cub Foods stores in the Twin Cities are owned by UNFI.

“They’re not talking about bargaining about it; their lawyer just informed us on the first day of negotiations that they are withdrawing from our pension fund the 1st of the year,” Borgen said. “Our pension is fully funded at 104%. There’s no reason to pull out of a great benefit for these workers.”

Additionally, three members of Local 22 have filed grievances accusing UNFI of stealing paid vacation hours. It’s a slap in the face, Borgen said, to workers who have kept bakery shelves stocked in grocery stores during the pandemic.

“Thousands of people were pouring in and out of those stores, putting our members at higher risk than your average worker,” he said. “They came to work knowing that they’d probably walk through a COVID cloud at some point.”

In some good news for Local 22, grain millers stood together and won significant pay raises at two General Mills elevators in Minneapolis earlier this month.

Union members voted unanimously to authorize a strike Sept. 9, after management refused to put more money into wages during negotiations that began in June. Within a week of the strike vote, General Mills had upped the offer, and Local 22 members had a new, four-year contract with 3% raises in the first and second years.

Local 22 is also in negotiations with Archer Daniels Midland on a contract covering 15 grain millers at another Minneapolis elevator, where members have voted down an offer with wage increases below 3%.

“There are places that are paying more, and everyone’s hiring,” Borgen said. “They worked every day through this pandemic. They think they deserve some respect.”

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