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Richmond workers, Nabisco execs reach tentative agreement

striking workers
Two workers take a break outside the Nabisco plant in Richmond. They've been on strike since August 16. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Thursday will mark one month since workers at a Nabisco plant in Richmond went on strike with four other plants around the country to protest workplace policies. Union leadership told the Washington Postthey began striking August 10, in Oregon, over changes to pensions, outsourcing and overtime pay.

Nabisco makes Oreos, Chips Ahoy and Ritz Crackers, all of which have surged in sales during  the ongoing pandemic.

Snack-packing technician Tacella Thornton has worked at the Richmond plant for 22 years. She’s a member of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union.

While walking the picket line holding signs urging drivers to honk for support, she says she normally works a 40-hour work week, but, “Sometimes I may work up to 12 or 16 hours, two, three days out the week. So I mean, it’s no big deal for us to do 80 hours in a week,” Thornton said.

Thornton adds that she and other workers are also concerned about retirement. She said in 2016, the company changed what’s called the “Golden 80 Rule,” which allows employees to retire depending on age and years worked.

“I was one of those people affected by that,” she said. “I’m 50 now. I’ll be 51 next month. I would’ve been able to retire at 54. They’ve already taken one thing from me where I can’t retire now until I’m 65. So guess, what? This fight, it means a whole lot to me.”

In an announcement Thursday, Nabisco parent company Mondelez said that a tentative agreement has been reached, saying in part: 

“We are pleased to announce that we reached a tentative agreement with the BCTGM bargaining committee on new contracts, which has been fully recommended by both parties. Our BCTGM-represented employees at our Portland (OR), Richmond (VA) and Chicago (IL) bakeries and our Aurora (CO), Addison (IL) and Norcross (GA) sales distribution facilities will have the opportunity to vote on ratifying the new contracts in the coming days.”

Union representative Lisa Gregory, who traveled from Toledo to take part in the strike in Richmond, says the strike began when the company closed two plants, one in Atlanta, the other in New Jersey.

“And then they came to the table and they asked for concessions,” Gregory said. “They wanted to do healthcare cuts for future employees, which we never want to do that, right? We want to take care of the ones that follow us, like we were taken care of.”

Gregory said no products have been made at the Richmond factory. The non-Union workers, who’ve been entering the factory by bus, have only been inside to clean. She said she’s not mad at them and understands they need to work too. It’s the company she has issues with. 

Gregory said that the company also wanted to implement a 12-hour schedule that eliminates overtime premiums on weekends.

“So, you might get a few days off here and there but you’re working Saturday and Sunday for straight time,” she said. “And every shift you work is 12 hours and they wouldn’t guarantee that they wouldn’t force them on their off days.:” 

With the tentative agreement in place, Gregory said she’s hopeful. 

“I think we have a good offer to vote, so I’m very optimistic,” she said.

Gregory says the union will vote Friday at 10 a.m.


Ian M. Stewart is the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.