MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When we went on strike “some of the supervisors told us we would only last a week. Here we are 10 weeks later, still strong, still together,” Zandra Lee, a member of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 390G at the International Flavors and Fragrances plant here, said on the picket line Aug. 13.
Nearly 200 members of the union have been on strike since June 4 after working for almost a year under an expired contract. The workers make soy protein products that are used by Nestle, Nestle Purina, Kind Bars, Abbott Nutrition and other companies to manufacture baby formula, pet foods, soy-based nutritional powders and other goods.
IFF has 158 plants worldwide and 51 laboratories. Its annual net sales were $11.7 billion in 2021.
Lee was talking with union members from BCTGM Local 57 at Klosterman Bakery in Cincinnati and a BCTGM Local 19 member from Schwebel’s Bakery Outlet in Dayton, Ohio, who drove together to Memphis to deliver solidarity cards and contributions from their local union members.
The Local 57 delegation included bakery workers Gary Ringo and Kaitlin Estill and business agent Earl Farris. They had helped get signatures on the card and raise money to bring to the strikers. Forty-one workers signed and donated $240. The local kicked in $250 more.
“Lots of workers in the plant contributed to making the card that we brought. One came up with the headline, another did the graphics, some of us circulated it to other workers to sign,” Estill said. “It helps strengthen us to do something like this.”
“Workers in Cincinnati were mad when we heard that IFF didn’t want to give workers Martin Luther King Jr. Day off and that IFF wants to be able to change their health care plan with only a month’s notice,” Ringo added. “And we work a lot of forced overtime too, so they relate to the fight to be paid time-and-a-half for that.”
“This experience is going to help the union members at Klosterman in their contract fight when their contract is up in a year and a half. They’ll get a lot out of meeting the strikers here in Memphis,” said Farris.
The Ohio delegation also included Jacquie Henderson, who brought a card and donations from workers at the Dayton outlet store and solidarity from BCTGM Local 19.
The strikers picket 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The visiting unionists met up with several International Flavors and Fragrances workers, including Local 390G President Cedric Wilson, at dawn as they came off night shift picket duty. They gave Wilson their cards of support and contributions.
Michael Hibler, who has worked in the plant since 1974, was one of the overnight pickets who greeted them. “We get a lot of support from workers in the Memphis area,” he said, as many drivers honked in support. “They know why we are here. They are facing some of the same things we are.
“And we appreciate all their support,” he said. “We live by those words on your cards about standing together in solidarity.”
“The company hasn’t come back to the bargaining table yet, but we can sense their desperation,” Wilson said. “They’re trying to get some of us to cross the line and come back to work. We’re not going back until we get the contract we deserve.”
Wilson explained that until about a year ago, half of the lab workers didn’t belong to the union. “The company had lied to them, telling them they would have to pay back union dues for all the years they worked here if they signed up,” he said. “When we explained the truth we convinced them to join and be part of the fight.”
Glenda Sumner, one of several lab workers walking the picket line that morning, said, “This is not about money, it’s about workers’ rights. I’m proud of my team. We’re all out here and we’re representing!”
Estill said that Klosterman often forces younger and newer workers onto dangerous jobs without enough training or safety equipment. “Many workers have scars on their arms from burns,” she said.
“You shouldn’t have to put up with that,” said striker Zandra Lee. “At IFF we fought for better personal protection equipment after there was an accident and a worker got hurt.” She showed them what type of gloves they wear to protect themselves.
“When we go back, we’re going to fight for this type of protection,” said Estill. The strikers deserve all the support they can get, which strengthens their fight — and the whole labor movement. Contributions are needed. Go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/bctgm-local-390g-iff-memphis-workers-on-strike
Join the picket line, night or day, at 4272 S. Mendenhall Road in Memphis.