EAST GARFIELD PARK — Employees and retired workers of the Nabisco bakery staged a protest at the Hatchery Chicago in response to the food business incubator’s new partnership with global snacking giant Mondelez International.
Protesters say that by accepting investment from Mondelez, which acquired Nabisco in 2000, the Hatchery is condoning labor practices that the protesters describe as exploitative.
“We want to let the Hatchery know that … they’re partnering with a corporation that’s trying to destroy pensions, trying to destroy jobs and trying to destroy the living wages of members of our union and people in the US and in Mexico,” said Elce Redmond, a representative of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union that helped to organize last week’s protest.
Mondelez announced its partnership with the Hatchery on March 21 as part of its SnackFutures initiative to bolster innovation in the snacking industry.
When the Hatchery came to Garfield Park in 2018, the non-profit laid out a Community Benefits Agreement indicated that its key selling-point for the neighborhood would be the high-quality food industry jobs it would bring and support through its training programs. The Hatchery projects it will bring 150 jobs to the community through 2019, and create over 900 new jobs by 2023.
However, those unhappy with the new partnership say collaborating with Mondelez directly contradicts those goals, given Mondelez’s history of cutting pensions and outsourcing jobs from Chicago to Mexico. In 2016 Mondelez came under fire after eliminating 600 union jobs at the Nabisco bakery at 73rd and Kedzie. While laid-off workers had been earning around $25 an hour, Mondelez contracts for the plant in Mexico where those jobs were transferred show that outsourced workers earn as little as 97 cents per hour.
“The Hatchery likes to do good work in Latino communities in Chicago,” said Nathan Zeff, an organizer representing the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union. “Well, there’s a department at the Nabisco bakeries, the repack department where they repackage a lot of the products. It’s majority Latino and majority women working there. They’re making about half of what the other workers in the main bakery are making.”
Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union also organized a protest outside the Mondelez-Nabisco Annual Shareholders Meeting earlier on that same day. Wednesday’s demonstrations were aimed at pressuring the Hatchery and other organizations into opening a dialogue about the partnerships they choose to support.
“We just kind of wanted to talk to the Hatchery about this kind of double standard of what they think they’re doing here, and what their partners like Mondelez are doing, you know, not that far away from here at 73rd and Kedzie. Not to mention other parts of the US and especially in Mexico,” said Zeff.
Union representatives say that since the partnership was announced, they have been attempting to reach CEO of The Hatchery Natalie Shmulik, but have so far been unable to bring their complaints to the leadership team. “We’d like to have a constructive discussion with the hatchery and, and with Accion, you know, but until they’re willing to have that discussion, you know, unfortunately, we have to be out of here,” said Zeff.
Shmulik declined to answer questions on Mondelez’s business practices, but stood by the partnership saying, “Mondelez is a [philanthropic] partner and has committed to helping us provide additional technical support for the companies and community we serve. We continue to focus all our efforts on supporting local food and beverage entrepreneurs and the local community.”
Mondelez officials did not respond to request for comment about the protest.
In March, when the company teamed with The Hatchery, it touted the partnership as a way to help.
“We are truly impressed with the talented start-ups coming out of The Hatchery and are excited to be part of this journey,” said Mondelez Chief Growth Officer Tim Cofer in a statement. “Working with the Hatchery food entrepreneurs will help us push the boundaries of what is possible in snacking as we continue to build our ecosystem of partners while also giving back and offering guidance to new companies.”