Chicago

Nabisco Layoffs Leave Loyola Alum Jobless, Disappointed

Loyola alumnus Frank Ramos, who graduated in 2002, has the social justice lessons he learned through his bachelor’s degree in philosophy at the Jesuit school on his mind.

His long-time place of employment, the Nabisco bakery on the Southwest Side of Chicago that produces snacks such as Oreo cookies and belVita breakfast bars, has become the new face of American jobs lost to outsourcing.

Ramos, who worked at the Marquette Park bakery as a quality manager, was one of 277 employees laid off on March 23. These layoffs are part of plans announced in July 2015 by Mondelēz International, the company that owns the bakery, to send 600 of the bakery’s 1,200 jobs to a plant in Salinas, Mexico.

“It’s unfortunate that you have companies that really treat people as just a number — replaceable,” said Ramos.

Now, the former Rambler is looking for new employment and ways to keep busy. He said he is looking into a master’s program at Northwestern University and has an interview for another management position in the food industry. As Illinois continues to struggle economically, lining up a job is becoming a more difficult necessity.

Despite the dismay the layoffs have caused, Ramos said he was not surprised by the massive cuts.

“I’ve been in manufacturing long enough that I could see that … the writing on the wall was there,” said Ramos. “When they took some of the [production] lines to Mexico, some of the Fig [Newton] lines, it was an opportunity for the company to take more lines.”

Mondelēz told its Chicago workers that they were competing with the Mexico factory one year prior to the layoffs, according to Ramos. He said the factory worked hard on keeping its numbers up, with workers obligated to work overtime or risk “abandonment” of the job. The workers were even told they were heading in the right direction, according to Ramos, yet Mondelēz chose to invest $130 million in its Mexico plant rather than the Nabisco bakery,  located at 7300 S. Kedzie Ave., that has been in Chicago since the 1950s.

The Phoenix’s efforts to reach Mondelēz for comment were unsuccessful.

Loyola has recently seen its own share of worker-related turmoil. Dining hall workers protested for improved wages and benefits while two separate groups of faculty members voted for unionization.

Similar to Loyola’s struggles, mistreatment of Nabisco employees was an issue even before the layoffs, according to Ramos. He said tension was so high in the bakery that an employee was reprimanded for falling off his stool.

“I thought that was a little bit absurd. It made me think, ‘OK, is this harassment?’” said Ramos.

An additional 91 workers have received 60-day layoff notices (the amount of time required by the state) after the first round that included Ramos.

Most of the Nabisco bakery workers are represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) Local 300 Union. The union released a video and petition in protest of the Nabisco layoffs.

The union declined to comment.

Some of the fired workers made salaries in the low six figures, according to Ramos. Now, workers in the Mexico factory will make significantly lower wages with little to no benefits, a way of “exploiting” these Mexican workers, Ramos explained.

These decreased costs are a part of business, according to Ramos, but are unfair to those who work under Mondelēz.

“I can see why they [want to] make their transition and move the lines over to Mexico,” said Ramos. “It makes sense for the company, but I don’t think it’s fair for Americans.”

Meanwhile, the compensation of Mondelēz CEO Irene Rosenfeld decreased slightly from about $21 million in 2014 to about $19.7 million in 2015, according to a proxy statement filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in March.

Ramos considers the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which allows for easier trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico, to be a big factor in the company’s outsourcing. He said NAFTA works to benefit “multinational corporations” rather than “human interest.”

This sentiment has been repeated by some Nabisco employees in the outcry that sparked since the job layoffs. Many of the fired workers have taken to rallying and protesting, including in front of Rosenfeld’s house, reported Fox 32.

One of the laid-off employees who rallied at Rosenfeld’s home was Mary Villarreal, another union worker laid off on March 3 after nearly seven years at Nabisco.

Villarreal was on temporary unemployment in order to complete her radiation treatments, as she is in the remission stage of breast cancer. Now, Villarreal will no longer have health insurance to help cover the cost of her remaining six weeks of radiation.

“I get a little depressed because of [the situation],” said Villarreal.

Villarreal said she was especially upset with the timing of the layoffs as she had just found her ideal home to purchase. She said she had to forfeit the deal because she no longer would be approved without a job.

“I was really looking forward to getting my first home. I loved the house and everything. I was so excited,” Villarreal said. “I was actually crying with the realtor [because] I had to let it go.”

Villarreal is now considering taking courses in Skokie on computer numerical control and quality control (manufacturing skills). She said she is worried she won’t be able to find a job to work around her radiation schedule.

While Ramos said he’s not too worried about himself, he is concerned for the other laid-off Mondelēz employees, many of whom only have high school diplomas.

“There were a few people who took it pretty hard. You’re messing with their livelihood,” said Ramos. “We all have family to support, mortgages. It’s hard for many of us.”

Many of his coworkers didn’t even believe Ramos had a college degree, he said, and assumed he was lying. However, Ramos said he still has the student loans to pay off to prove it. Even with his positive outlook on job prospects, he said he has debt and mortgages to cover in the absence of an income.

Ramos said he believes the Nabisco bakery will close altogether in the next few years and become a distributing warehouse.

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