Chicago Nabisco bakery workers protested Thursday against Mondelez International's plans to move hundreds of local jobs to Mexico.
Chicago Nabisco bakery workers fighting to save their jobs hit the picket lines Thursday afternoon for a downtown protest outside the Four Seasons Hotel.
Irene Rosenfeld, the chairman and CEO of the snack food manufacturing giant Mondelez International -- which owns the Southwest Side Nabisco factory where 600 jobs are expected to be cut and outsourced to Mexico -- was speaking inside the hotel as part of the The Economist's Innovation Forum.
Rather than investing in the Nabisco bakery, which dates back to the 1950s, Mondelez is moving much of its production work to Mexico. About 600 of the 1,200 workers at the Nabisco facility, located at 7300 S. Kedzie Ave., are expected to be impacted.
The first round of layoff notices, effective March 21, already went out to 277 workers.
Leonard Aiello, who has worked as a mixer at the Nabisco plant for the past four years, is among those who received pink slips.
"I'm 57-years-old, and I had planned on this being my last stop until retirement," Aiello, a Lombard resident, told Progress Illinois. "So now, of course, you know, I have to find another job. I'm too young to retire."
Aiello joined his co-workers, Nabisco plant retirees and allies at Thursday's protest. Across the street from the hotel, the group marched on the sidewalk chanting, "Save our jobs!" and "Hey Irene, stop being greedy! Leave our jobs in the city!"
Most of the bakery workers, represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) International Union, are African American and Latino.
Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, whose district covers the Southwest Side of Chicago, was at the protest.
"This company, Nabisco, owned by Mondelez, is a company that over the past 10 years has received huge subsidies from both the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago so that they could remain here in the city," Garcia said in an interview. "After all of this assistance that they have received, they're now threatening to lay off at least 600 workers at Nabisco ... This comes as we learn that the CEO of Mondelez has received huge bonuses over the past several years, when the company should be thinking about the life and welfare of the families that have made Nabisco a brand, that have made it a successful corporation."
"We know that they want to move because they probably want to pay lower wages to workers in places like Mexico," Garcia added. "We say the fight for good jobs has to occur everywhere, that's why I'm here supporting the workers. We need Nabisco to stay on the Southwest Side of Chicago."
A request for comment was left with Mondelez International.
Sabrina Pope, 58, has worked at the Nabisco plant for 36 years. Her mother also worked at the factory.
"My mother worked at that bakery for 42 years," said Pope, a North Lawndale resident. "It has been a family-orientated place ... Now, it's up in the air. And we want to turn it back around to like it was. It was a family place."
Pope has not yet received a pink slip. But she fears it could be coming soon.
"We're fighting to save these jobs," she said. "Irene, give us a break. We need our jobs."
Check out scenes from the protest, including additional comments from Pope and Garcia:
Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton as well as Republican frontrunner Donald Trump have spoken out over Mondelez International's plans to ship Chicago jobs to Mexico.
Workers said they were glad that their situation has received national attention. But they stressed the need for policy action to help curb the offshoring of American jobs.
"They should stop all this outsourcing," Aiello said. "If they're gonna outsource, they should penalize these companies for removing these jobs."
Pope had a message for all 2016 presidential contenders.
"Back us," she said. "Stop this transferring of companies out of the United States. Let us do what we're doing ... We are producing some of the best products. We have (done) this with our blood, sweat and tears for years. Nabisco, Mondelez was a company that when I got hired, I was planning on retiring from it. Now I don't know if they're gonna lock the doors on us. I don't know if I'm gonna get laid off without a job."
UPDATE (3/11/16 12:05 p.m.): In an interview with Progress Illinois, a Mondelez International spokeswoman provided details about the company's move to install four new production lines at its existing facility is Salinas, Mexico, and what comes next for the Chicago Nabisco bakery.
Last spring, Mondelez International announced it would be making an investment in four new state-of-the-art manufacturing lines, either at its existing Chicago bakery or Mexico facility, explained Mondelez International spokeswoman Laurie Guzzinati. Discussion over the investment opportunity took place over a roughly four-month period, during which meetings were held with union members, she said. At the end of July, the company announced it was moving forward with its investment in the Salinas facility.
"The four lines going to the facility in Salinas, that equated to approximately 600 positions in the bakery," Guzzinati said.
Had the investment come to the Chicago bakery, four new manufacturing lines would have replaced older, inefficient lines at the plant, Guzzinati said.
"Regardless of where the four [manufacturing lines] went, there would have been nine lines coming out of the Chicago bakery," Guzzinati said. "All throughout the process it was clear that even if Chicago were to receive the investment, there would have been a headcount impact in Chicago."
Services and employment transition supports, such as training opportunities, have been made available to affected Chicago Nabisco factory workers, Guzzinati said, adding that a number of bakery employees who would have been impacted have found other positions within the company.
Guzzinati stressed that the Chicago bakery is not closing, and will continue to have a "strong workforce" of about 600 employees.
"The Chicago bakery remains an important part of our manufacturing network and an important part of our U.S. manufacturing networks that exist supporting our biscuit business," she said. "Even absent this investment, from an overall headcount perspective, the Chicago bakery will remain one of our larger facilities ... and will continue to produce a variety of cookies and crackers that are enjoyed by consumers."
She said the company is currently working on implementation of the four new lines at the Salinas facility, with plans to have the project completed in mid-2016.
Guzzinati also clarified that the company "did not seek out nor receive" any government-provided "incentives or tax credits related to" this investment decision.