Oreo bakers say Mondelez managers in Richmond show disrespect, sow fear, endanger workers

Gordon Mayer |

Sheri Hawes said the union was helping her to stand up to pressure and disrespect from Mondelez supervisors as she makes Oreos and other cookies and snacks at the company's Richmond plant. (Brian Palmer for Interfaith Worker Justice)

A dozen faith leaders, seminarians and others attended the hearing Oct. 26 at Glendale Community Bible Church, itself run by retired former Nabisco workers. 

Workers at the Mondelez Nabisco plant in Richmond, Virginia said one word sums up their day-to-day experience at the hands of supervisors and executives: disrespect. 

They spoke to a group of faith leaders and seminary students at an event organized by Kim Bobo, the executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and our own former executive director, as well as by the bakers union Local 358 and Interfaith Worker Justice.

“They bully us,” said Sherri Hawes, a military veteran who said she started at the company 18 years ago. “Supervisors are aggressive,” Hawes said. “They say sarcastic stuff. They want to make people nervous.”

Denise Whitehead, a second-generation employee at the plant echoed those comments as Bakers union Business Agent Ted Constable and Kim Bobo listened (Above and top left photos by Brian Palmer for Interfaith Worker Justice)

Keith Bragg, another longtime plant worker, echoed that: “Nabisco was an awesome place to work,” Bragg said. “They were about profits, but they also took care of their employees. Now that’s been threatened.”

Moving hundreds of jobs to Mexico in 2016 was the last straw in a steady process of puzzling practices by their new employer, Mondelez, the workers said.

Mondelez, a made-up word that means delicious world, is a five-year-old holding company that owns the Nabisco brand and its Oreos, Premium saltines, Chicken in a Biscuit and other iconic snacks. They also own Cadbury and other global candy and healthier treat brands.

This was the third of Interfaith Worker Justice’s investigative visits with Nabisco bakers about life under Mondelez. We began the process in September due to concern since the company laid off 600 workers from its Chicago plan in March 2016. Those jobs went to the company’s new plant in Mexico.

Workers also said mismanagement has generated a growing number of accidents on the line at the Richmond plant. The company paid an $8,550 fine to OSHA in May.

Faith leaders present said the presentation by the workers was eye opening and would stimulate them to educate others about what they had heard. Matilda Moros, assistant professor of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, attended with several seminary students in her current class on urban ministry and social justice.

“What I learned today is the amount of injustice that’s happening to the workers here in Richmond in the Nabisco plant,” Moros said. “To support those workers, we are hoping to work with the seminaries, to work with local congregations just to educate about what’s happening, to educate on what cookies to buy what cookies not to buy but just to educate on who’s employing who here in Richmond, and how are they treating the workers.