Philadelphia- In announcing the closing of the Mondelez, Inc. Bakery and former Kraft/Nabisco baking plant in the Northeast, in February, Cindy Waggoner, the V.P. for Integrated Supply Chain Biscuits for Mondelez, Inc., described the decision as “bittersweet.” For the 350 workers, families and neighborhood businesses affected, the shuttering of the iconic company had little that was sweet.
In the shadow of the historic Philadelphia bakery that still bears the name ‘Nabisco/Kraft” on its walls, a group of State Senators, Representatives and City Councilmen stood in solidarity with members of the Bakers and Confectionery Workers’ Union Local 492, Wednesday, Feb. 19, denouncing the Mondelez International company for what it called “greed,” and a failure to deal “honestly” with workers, families and communities that are impacted by a planned 2015 closure.
“What is going on here is pure greed, without consideration for the community, the workers and the families of the Northeast,” declared State Sen. Michael Stack (D-Pa.). “Big business has to learn that workers are customers; and the continued erosion of the middle class and the decline of urban neighborhoods is bad business over the long term.”
Sen. Stack added, that the company had failed to deal “honestly with workers or elected officials.”
State Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-Pa.) followed by suggesting Mondelez Inc. “prioritize their needs,” and “keep these jobs here.” The 172nd Dist. Representative noted that the employees offered to give the company executives a tour of the area with the expectation of state and local support for building a “state-of -the-art factory.” But, “all we got was silence.”
“Form the very beginning (Mondelez Inc.) were never really interested in actually working with the State of Pennsylvania or the city of Philadelphia to save these jobs,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.). “That is wrong.”
Citing the nearby examples of Pepsi and Crown, Cork & Seal, Sen. Stack interjected, “Those companies that work with American workers know that their product will bring profits.” Then holding up a package of Oreo cookies and noting that it’s no longer produced in the United States, Sen. Stack called for a “boycott” of Mondelez products that were once made by Philadelphia’s Kraft plant: “They’ve shown that they travel on a one-way street and the one way street is all about their profits. It’s all about taking care of themselves and it’s not at all about taking care of workers.”
Councilman Brian O’Neill characterized Mondelez’s treatment of the city’s workers and public officials as a “charade.”
“This has been one long charade. They never intended to stay here,” said the Republican City Councilman. “They weren’t honest with anyone: they weren’t honest with their workers, they weren’t honest with the elected officials, they weren’t honest with anybody.”
“We see the jobs here that are leaving. But there also families involved,” continued Mr. O’Neill. “And there are also jobs that we can’t see. People who will lose their jobs that don’t work here, but their businesses support this plant. So there is a trickle-down effect.”
“The one thing we know is that Mondelez doesn’t care and hasn’t cared from day one,” added Councilman O’Neill. “Their focus is somewhere else, and when a company’s focus is somewhere else and not on the U.S., we’ve got to make sure we don’t reward them.”
Councilman O’Neill angrily noted: “They walk away and life is the same for them; it’s just a lot different for the people they left behind. We’ve got to look forward, because there are no rear-view mirrors here.”
Councilman Bobby Henon stressed the importance of employers that offer jobs with, “family sustaining wages.” He went on to say that such jobs were the foundation of “decent” and “working-class neighborhoods right here in Northeast Philadelphia.”
A Co-Chairman of a Manufacturing task-force, Councilman Henon urged federal and state policies that provide incentives for “manufacturing” and “keep jobs here and keep our families here.”
“Infrastructure isn’t just pipes and roads,” added Mr. Henon. “Infrastructure is the family and family-sustaining wages that (allow us) to raise kids and live the American dream.”
According to the President of the Bakers and Confectioners Union, Local 492, John Lazar, the average worker at the former Nabisco/Kraft bakery earns between $15 and $25 an hour. Mr. Lazar also recalled that in negotiating with Mondelez, the union was willing to make concessions on a variety of issues: wages, pensions, healthcare, part-timers and flexibility in work rules.
Councilman Henon noted, “they didn’t want any part of it.”
In attributing the situation at the former Kraft plant to “structural changes in the economy over the last twenty years,” and “free trade agreements,” Rep. Kevin J. Boyle argued, “Free-trade is not fair-trade. What’s being done by Mondelez is simply busting the union, and sending jobs to southern and right-to-work states” or abroad.
“It’s a betrayal of why my Father came here for at the age of nineteen,” said Rep. Boyle, adding that his father lost a job when a Philadelphia Acme Warehouse closed.
Philadelphia workers are not the only victims of Mondelez’s global strategy. In a more than $12 billion takeover of the historic Cadbury Chocolates of Great Britain, and its century-old plant in Somerdale, England, in 2009, the then Kraft company made pledges of continuity with workers concerned about “foreign ownership.”
Within a year, Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld announced the closing of the Somerdale plant, leaving its “outraged” 400 employees to demand an apology for “broken promises,” according to news accounts.
A former Cadbury worker, Vince Frankom, echoed the views of Philadelphia workers, saying: “It’s upsetting to see this factory sold,” he said. “This was a very famous factory -me and my family had worked here for years -and it was a fantastic company.”
A British publication wrote of the Cadbury closing: “The move comes days after Kraft CEO, Irene Rosenfeld, refused to appear before a committee of MPs at Westminster to explain her actions during the takeover.”