Quick Hit Michael Joyce Monday February 22nd, 2016, 3:45pm

Candlelight Vigil Held For Several Hundred Jobs Lost & In Peril In Chicago

A warm atmosphere contrasted the cold weather as demonstrators gathered to chant, cheer, and shout in defiance of Mondelez International, one of the world's largest snack companies, Sunday evening.

At times it was difficult to hear the organizers speaking over the sounds of the crowd cheering and passing cars beeping on the corner of 73rd and Kedzie Ave., where a candlelight vigil was held directly across the street from the Nabisco factory, which is owned by Mondelez International.

Last year, Mondelez told employees that the company would be relocating much of the production work to Salinas, Mexico.

So far 227 employees have received layoff notices as a result of the company closing nine of the bakery's sixteen production lines. Additionally, Mondelez is contemplating the opening of four new lines in Mexico, which would result in a total loss of 600 jobs in Chicago.

Barbara Cimbalista, an employee of Mondelez International, says she was told by management that if they want to keep their jobs, they need to be able to compete with Mexico.

"I said, 'how do you expect us to compete with Mexico when they get $3 an hour, and we get $25 an hour,'" asked Cimbalista. "They said cut wages and benefits. I said 'no, I don't think so.'"

According to Cimbalista, 447 charges of discrimination based on race, age, and national origin were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Mondelez on January 27.

Cimbalista says she believe that the Nabisco plant was targeted for the layoffs because majority of the staff, who are represented by the Bakery Confectionary Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, are minorities.

Chicago Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th) participated in the event. Curtis said it's a shame corporate greed results in the loss of American jobs, and explained the impact lost jobs can, and will, have on communities in his ward.

"Oh my God, we go right back to crime, to break-ins. People losing their jobs and losing their homes. We're just coming out of the recession. Something like this will put us right back in it," Curtis told Progress Illinois.

"I was talking with a lot of people (who) have been here 30 or 40 years and they're wondering how to send their kids to college," continued Curtis. "One lady I spoke to is the only one in the house that's working."

Sabrina Pope, one of the protest's organizers, says she was hired by Nabisco 36 years ago. Pope says when she started, the atmosphere at the plant was good, but that has changed as of late.

"Managers are waiting to catch you doing anything and everything," explained Pope. "For no reason, they'll call you in the office and suspend you. It's too stressful out there right now."

According to Pope, the current work environment is so stressful that it is resulting in physical illness amongst employees.

"A lot of employees get physically sick when they come through those gates," said Pope. "They don't want to come in to the stress. They come in for eight, 12, 16 hours, and it's too much."

Mondelez employees were not the only ones to attend the vigil. Workers from various industries came out in solidarity with the Nabisco plant employees.

Daniel Vazquez works as a stock handler for Addison Distribution. He said his livelihood would be directly affected by the Chicago factory's relocation to Mexico.

"We've gotta lock down these jobs," said Vazquez. "We get the product they make. If we don't get what they're making, then what are we gonna do? Its a chain reaction. We've got to help each other out here."

Amy Kilburn traveled all the way from Elkhart, Indiana to support the workers. She said a similar scenario is playing out across the country.

"It's the same story all across the rust belt," said Kilburn. "The last 20 years we've seen industries change. Many have gone overseas to foreign countries. A lot of union busting has occurred."

According to Kilburn, work is more than a source of income, it's a source of identity.

"As workers, we give our lives," said Kilburn. "What we do for a living defines who we are. When a job ends, divorces happen, people lose their homes, and communities collapse."

Mondelez International has not responded to a request for comment on this story.

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