Nestlé’s Makes the Very Best? Georgia Workers Vote To Unionize

Bruce Vail April 7, 2017

The workers at Nestlé’s distribution center are at one of the choke points of a global logistics chain that produces billions in profits for the Swiss company. (Mike Mozart/ Flickr)

Your Nesquik may now be shipped by union work­ers, thanks to a pow­der-thin union elec­tion at a dis­tri­b­u­tion cen­ter just south of Atlanta.

Work­ers at Nestlé’s facil­i­ty in McDo­nough, Geor­gia, vot­ed 49 – 46 Wednes­day in favor of rep­re­sen­ta­tion by the Retail, Whole­sale and Depart­ment Store Union (RWD­SU), said labor orga­niz­er Greg Scan­drett. The cam­paign was tough, so the vic­to­ry is sweet.

They [Nestlé] fought this from Day 1. They brought in peo­ple from HR from all around the coun­try,” Scan­drett said.

He expects nego­ti­a­tions around a first con­tract will be difficult. 

The work­ers at Nestlé’s dis­tri­b­u­tion cen­ter are at one of the choke points of a glob­al logis­tics chain that pro­duces bil­lions in prof­its for the Swiss com­pa­ny. Nestlé spokes­woman Liz Casel­li-Mechael tells In These Times that the com­pa­ny has more than 400 fac­to­ries in 86 dif­fer­ent coun­tries. It employs 330,000 peo­ple glob­al­ly, she says, with about 51,000 of those work­ers in the Unit­ed States.

Casel­li-Mechael did not imme­di­ate­ly respond to a request to com­ment on the union election.

The dis­tri­b­u­tion cen­ter in McDo­nough han­dles many dif­fer­ent Nestlé prod­ucts. Nesquik, the wild­ly pop­u­lar choco­late milk pow­der, and can­dy are the most famous, but baby for­mu­la is also han­dled there, Scan­drett said. The work site is at a key rail­road inter­sec­tion with Inter­state 85, so much of Nestlé’s prof­its from the south­east­ern Unit­ed States flow through the facil­i­ty, he said.

Accord­ing to Scan­drett, man­age­ment-labor rela­tions on the shop floor are not good. Many work­ers feel dis­re­spect­ed by the man­agers. Favoritism in assign­ments and pro­mo­tions is a huge com­plaint, he says. And racial ten­sions, with the vast major­i­ty of black work­ers pit­ted against the over­whelm­ing­ly white man­agers, are high, Scan­drett says. 

Hourly pay is not a big issue, accord­ing to Scan­drett. Pay starts out at around $17 an hour, but there is lit­tle room for growth, with pay top­ping out at around $19 an hour, he says.

Labor rela­tions at Nestlé’s oper­at­ing units have been a peren­ni­al source of dis­may at the IUF, the Inter­na­tion­al Union of Food, Agri­cul­tur­al, Hotel, Restau­rant, Cater­ing, Tobac­co and Allied Work­ers’ Asso­ci­a­tions. IUF’s spe­cial Nestlé orga­niz­ing cen­ter reports on prob­lems with the com­pa­ny in coun­tries like Turkey, South Korea and Finland.

It’s not real­ly about the pay. It’s about how you are treat­ed. Nobody should have to stand for being dis­re­spect­ed all the time,” Scan­drett said.

Bruce Vail is a Bal­ti­more-based free­lance writer with decades of expe­ri­ence cov­er­ing labor and busi­ness sto­ries for news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Dai­ly Labor Report, cov­er­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing issues in a wide range of indus­tries, and a mar­itime indus­try reporter and edi­tor for the Jour­nal of Com­merce, serv­ing both in the newspaper’s New York City head­quar­ters and in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. bureau.
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