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Oreo's parent company, Mondelez International, is sweetning its offer to more than 2,000 unionized workers.

Oreo's parent company, Mondelez International, is sweetning its offer to more than 2,000 unionized workers. (Dreamstime)

Dreamstime

DEERFIELD, Ill. - Mondelez International, the global snack food company known for brands like Oreo cookies and Ritz crackers, has sweetened its offer to more than 2,000 unionized workers who have been without a contract for more than two years.

Members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers union would each get a $15,000 bonus if they ratify the deal by Sunday. Such a conclusion to the prolonged impasse appears unlikely, though, as union leaders said Wednesday that Mondelez's offer amounts to a net loss for its members. The plan would shift workers from a pension fund's defined benefit plan to a 401(k)-style plan - a prime point of contention.

In total, seven contracts covering workers in Chicago and seven other locations expired at the end of February 2016. More than 400 Chicago-area workers would be covered by a new agreement, according to the union.

At the Mondelez annual shareholders meeting Wednesday in Lincolnshire, new CEO Dirk Van de Put defended the company's offer. The bakery and confectionery pension fund that currently provides retirement benefits for the union workers is in "critical and declining status," and likely will be insolvent within 13 years, Van de Put said.

"We believe our offer is fair and is the right thing to do. Our interest is to make sure our current employees have the guaranteed pension going forward," said Van de Put, who took over from former CEO Irene Rosenfeld in November.

The company's offer - which is otherwise unchanged from its last revised proposal in April 2016 - also includes 2.25 percent annual wage increases, as well as health care contributions. Mondelez initially included a $5,000 ratification bonus in its offer, then tripled that amount to $15,000 this month.

"More than two years have passed. It's important to bring this to resolution ... so we can move forward," Mondelez spokeswoman Laurie Guzzinati said after the meeting.

But according to the union's analysis of the offer, the amount that employees would lose in pension benefits and health care contributions far outweighs the bonus, said David Durkee, the union's president.

"What the company was hoping for was some sort of rally for a vote. That has not happened in any location. ... It's concessionary and the people understand that," Durkee said.

Outside the annual meeting Wednesday, shareholders and Mondelez executives were momentarily blocked from exiting the parking lot as union members chanted and wielded signs that read "Hands off our pensions!"

Members of the baker's union have rallied at every annual meeting since the company announced in 2015 that it was going to lay off about half of its 1,200 workers at the Nabisco bakery on Chicago's Southwest Side and move some operations to Mexico.

The baker's union, which chose at the time not to negotiate the impact of those layoffs on its members, was the largest and hardest-hit of the bakery's three unions. In November, Mondelez met with the union and agreed upon a settlement that included extending the rights of some workers to be recalled for work and offering retirement packages to others, Guzzinati said.

Since the Chicago jobs were cut, about 160 workers have been called back to the plant as Mondelez has continued to invest there, including installing a new modernized line for Wheat Thin production and an oven for belVita biscuits, Guzzinati said.

As she has in the past, Guzzinati stressed that the bakery's layoffs were a separate issue from ongoing negotiations with the union.

If Mondelez's offer isn't ratified by Sunday, she said, the $15,000 bonus offer will expire.

Both sides said they're willing to continue negotiating.

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