Tensions are high on the picket line at a Nabisco bakery in Northeast Portland, where security guards have physically clashed with strike supporters as Mondelez International and union officials come to the table this week to work on an agreement to end a nationwide strike that has now stretched on for more than a month.
Workers in the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union Local 364 (BCTGM) were the first to go on strike more than a month ago when they walked off the job in a contract dispute with Mondelez International, the multinational snack food corporation that owns Nabisco.
The strike was prompted by a contract offer that would shift employees to an alternative workweek, effectively eliminate weekend pay for overtime work, and give new workers a lesser healthcare plan. Nabisco workers in four other cities have since joined the strike.
Mondelez presented a new offer to BCTGM leadership at the beginning of September—including a ratification bonus of $5,000 per employee—but did not address major union concerns. That offer expired last week.
Local 364 Vice President Michael Burlingham said that Mondelez’s offer was “just trying to sprinkle some stuff on a pile of shit,” and that he is not confident that his union bargaining committee and the corporation will be able to come to an agreement to end the strike this week.
“My motto here has been hope for the best, but don’t expect anything to change,” Burlingham said. “I feel like that’s the realistic approach you have to take on this, because given the company’s history, not just during these current negotiations but over these last seven years, they have really made it clear who they are. They are a very difficult company to deal with.”
Burlingham’s outlook reflects the tenor of a strike in Portland that has grown increasingly contentious in recent weeks, due in large part to the presence of Mondelez-hired security workers from Huffmaster, a Michigan-based security firm.
Multiple protesters told the Mercury that Huffmaster agents have become physically aggressive during confrontations on and around the picket line, including early on Monday morning, when a guard pinned strike supporter Jesse Dreyer, a member of Teamsters Local 162, against a van.
Video shows Dreyer, pushed up against the van, being elbowed and jostled by Huffmaster security guards for nearly two minutes.
“It felt really personal, because I’ve been out there every day,” Dreyer said. “They know my face, and I yell at them, ‘Shame on you,’ every single morning. It felt like they targeted me... and got out a little bit of what they wanted to.”
That has not been the only instance of aggression against strike supporters who have engaged in direct action at the site, action that has included blocking company buses carrying replacement workers when they arrive at the bakery in the morning.
Last Wednesday, when strike supporters were protesting the hiring of replacement workers, one protester said that a Huffmaster agent who had been stomping on protesters’ feet elbowed them into a vehicle. The protester asked the Mercury not to publish their name out of safety concerns.
“I was not touching him, I was not touching anyone,” they said. “I was standing there with a sign. I actually was recovering from a foot injury... and after that, I have had a lot of difficulty walking this week. There have been nights I haven’t been able to sleep through the pain.”
Dreyer, who often visits the picket line early in the morning after his work shift ends, said he believes that the security guards have “gotten rougher and rougher and rougher.”
On Monday, Willamette Week reported that Huffmaster has posted jobs in other cities where Nabisco workers are on strike.
The strain of the strike is beginning to show for Mondelez, despite their employment of replacement workers and ongoing production at their facilities in Mexico.
Mondelez CEO Dirk Van de Put told a Barclays consumer conference last week that Nabisco products have been produced “not to the same level” since the commencement of the strike, and a recent market analysis found a nearly two percent increase of undelivered Mondelez orders, mainly due to the corporation canceling shipments.
While many grocery stores remain fully stocked with Nabisco products like Oreos and Chips Ahoy!, shortages have cropped up at various grocery stores across the US.
Mondelez spokesperson Laurie Guzzinati declined to comment specifically on production delays, but wrote in email to the Mercury that the company has "a robust business continuity plan which we have activated, and we are committed to continuing to meet the needs of our retail customers and consumers."
So far, the strikers are holding strong: Burlingham said that the union knows of only three bakers of the more than 200 at the Portland site who have crossed the picket line and returned to work since the strike began.
The majority of the other four unions who work at the bakery are honoring the strike as well, though the operating engineers have also returned to work.
But while the length of the strike and the intensity of the confrontations with the on-site security guards have taken their toll, Burlingham said that the workers are finding ways to lift their spirits—and recover a portion of their lost income.
Burlingham, who had saved money for years in anticipation of a strike, briefly worked as a delivery driver for a company that partners with Amazon. He estimated that as many as half of the bakers are working other jobs to supplement their income while on strike, many with gig jobs like delivering for Amazon Flex and DoorDash.
The bakers have also leaned on a GoFundMe strike fund that has raised in excess of $80,000 over the last several weeks—exceeding its initial goal by more than $20,000—to purchase supplies and support strikers in need.
Much of that money has come from other unions, some of whom have contributed in other ways as well. Unionized aerospace engineers at Boeing donated $6,000 in the form of groceries.
“It’s not like we’re in this desperate decision where we have to go back,” Burlingham said. “We’re not there. The community is helping us out to where we don’t have to get to that point.”
The strikers have received full-throated support from a range of politicians, including Portland city commissioners Jo Ann Hardesty and Carmen Rubio, at weekly rallies on the picket line hosted by a collection of progressive organizations, and this morning will be joined by players from the NWSL powerhouse Portland Thorns.
Support is not just coming from Oregonians.
“This has become not just a Nabisco fight,” Burlingham said. “This is the American working class fight. Between Frito Lay, the Alabama coal miners strike, [and] us, there’s a lot of people paying attention—and not just in the United States. Globally.”
But especially at home, as the strike has continued, many have grown more invested. The strike supporter who was injured by a security guard said that they will return to the picket line, though they “might be on crutches.” Burlingham said the ardor of the strike’s supporters is welcome but unsurprising.
“The community is showing up and showing their support,” Burlingham said. “This is Portland, after all. People are very passionate here.”