470 Nestlé workers are on strike in Toronto, as the company continues to demand a large segment of Unifor 252 members accept lower pay, precarious work, and fewer benefits, without end.
The 470 workers at Nestlé’s plant near Lansdowne Station—which manufactures KitKat, Aero, Coffee Crisp and Smarties chocolates—began picketing May 1. The union says talks broke down because the company insists on keeping a large section of the facility worse-paid, precarious and with fewer benefits, even as they work shoulder-to-shoulder with full time staff.
This issue drove the workers to strike in 2017. Canadian Manufacturing noted at the time these “supplemental employees”, while part of the bargaining unit, are paid less, have no pension and few benefits. This state of affairs continues. In the most recent collective agreement, full-time staff pay starts at $23.77 an hour, but “supplemental” pay is capped at $17.30, after three years.
Previously, the company agreed to make 80 of its part time workers full time, with higher wages, permanent employment and benefits. It further agreed to make 10 part time workers full time, each year following.
But now the company refuses to move its part time workers to full-time status, until they’ve completed 8,000 hours of work. As many of these workers are given fewer than 1,000 hours per year, this means about eight years of precarity. But even if a temporary worker managed to secure the equivalent of full time hours, they’d be stuck working precariously for about four years.
The union rightly called this “an impossible feat”—especially for workers with families. The only excuse the company has provided for this to date is related to supposedly “seasonal” trends in chocolate production, without much evidence.
Nestlé has tried to divide the union previously, to drag down pay and conditions. In 2014, the company pushed to cut workers’ pensions across the board, changing them from a defined benefit (DB) to defined contribution (DC) system. After workers went on strike, the company’s offer switched 25 per cent of workers and all new hires to the lesser pension. The offer also implemented a three-year wage freeze across the board. Nearly a decade later, the union is still fighting for pension rights and wages that even make up the lost time.
Meanwhile, Nestlé reported steady profits—even through the pandemic. The company’s most-recent annual report noted an increased earnings of 3.5 per cent as it delivered $14.5 billion to its shareholders. The company’s executive board rewarded itself with a bonus 13.7 per cent higher than last year’s. Yet, from Britain, to Washington, and elsewhere, workers are not seeing the gains. They’re pushed to accept wage cuts, pension clawbacks, job cuts and attacks on their security.
On May 3, the union picketed the plant on Sterling Rd. and received wide community support.
Fightback commends these workers for standing up to Nestlé. This company has shown again and again that the cut-backs it demands have never been “temporary.” An injury to one is an injury to all. The whole labour movement must lend its full support to these workers.