CITY HALL — Aldermen spoke out Wednesday against the loss of jobs to Mexico at a Nabisco bakery on the Southwest Side considered an "icon" of Chicago manufacturing.
Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th) charged that "corporate greed" was the only rationale behind Mondelez moving 600 jobs at the Nabisco factory to a plant in Salinas, Mexico, this year.
That landed the Nabisco bakery in the presidential campaign spotlight, as both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders made the job losses an issue earlier this year, with Trump saying, "I'm never eating Oreos again."
The Council's Economic Development Committee passed a resolution Wednesday asking the Nabisco plant's corporate owner, Mondelez, to reconsider the job transfer, but aldermen went on to suggest a stronger measure condemning the company.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said he grew up "in the shadow of Nabisco" in the 18th Ward near the plant's location at 73rd Street and Kedzie Avenue, so "I'm well aware of the aroma, and the sweet aroma that it was, but this is not a sweet topic."
After Bob Reiter, secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, testified that Mondelez sought $93 million in worker concessions to keep the jobs here, Tunney called that "a ridiculously absurd negotiating tactic."
"It was not an ask," said Michael Smith, a former employee at the plant who was laid off in March. "It was an ultimatum."
Smith called it "greed, pure and simple." He charged it was only to "enhance the already obscene wealth" of Mondelez's chief executive officer, board of directors and top investors, with CEO Irene Rosenfeld making $20 million last year.
Smith testified that Mondelez executives called Oreos made at the plant "our billion-dollar cookie," with an estimated $2.9 billion in annual sales. Yet they moved 600 jobs to "low-wage and essentially unregulated Mexico" to increase profits.
Reiter called the Nabisco plant "an icon" of Chicago manufacturing. "It's a real place with real workers," he added. "We need to hold these employers accountable."
Reiter insisted, "Where there's a level playing field, I'm all about it," but said this was a case of jobs being moved to one of the nations "making the deliberate decision not to protect the workers of their countries."
Curtis estimated the plant had benefited from $90 million in city subsidies since 1990.
Mondelez did not have a representative at the meeting, and did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
"We did ask them to come today," said Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), chairman of the committee. "They refused."
Moreno called Curtis' resolution "a very good first step," but said a stronger resolution condemning the company for the job losses might be necessary and that he'd seek the support of the Council's Latino Caucus.
"Let's make sure we follow up," he said, "to stay on this very important issue."
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