It was her 49th birthday and Delfina Duran was tired after another monotonous day inspecting cans of chilies at Nabisco Foods’ Oxnard plant.
But instead of returning home, the single mother of four passed through the plant’s security gates, picked up a protest sign and marched all the way to Oxnard City Hall. She had some tough work to do.
“We just want to see if we could raise our voices loud enough so they would keep us all employed,” said Duran, still clad in her blue Nabisco uniform. “It seems like we’re being punished.”
More than 100 workers and supporters held a rally and march in Oxnard on Wednesday afternoon to protest Nabisco’s plans to lay off the 100 local employees who make the world’s supply of A-1 Steak Sauce and Grey Poupon mustard.
The march was organized by union leaders and workers who say the layoffs are in retaliation to a lawsuit filed in March by 30 current and former female employees alleging they were denied adequate restroom privileges and consequently had to wear diapers on the job.
“They felt that they were being retaliated against because these women were wronged and chose to sue Nabisco,” said Scott Dennison, chief executive officer of Teamster’s Local 186, which represents many of the plant’s 550 workers. “They felt they were all being targeted.”
Nabisco representatives said on Wednesday that the decision announced last week to relocate production of the mustard and steak sauce to the East Coast next summer was based purely on business considerations.
“It’s based on where the majority of our customers are from,” said company spokesman Hank Sandbach. “Most of them live east of the Rockies.
“It has absolutely nothing to do with the class-action lawsuit,” he added. “I can categorically deny that that has anything to do with it.”
The protesters clearly felt otherwise, carrying signs that read “Pardon Me, Nabisco, Sexual Discrimination Don’t Cut the Mustard,” “Pardon Me, Let’s Keep Our Grey Poupon,” and “Don’t Mess With Our Mustard.”
“I don’t think the company wants to face the complaints these women are making,” said 48-year-old Rodrigo Miramontes, marching with his 8-year-old grandson Fabian. “But the problems aren’t going to go away, even if they move. They need to stay here and work this out.”
Some workers complained that the women who filed the suit were not taking part in Wednesday’s march and had cost many others their jobs, but other protesters said the women should not come under fire for their decision to fight Nabisco.
“Whatever happens, the women who stood up for themselves cannot be blamed,” said Patti Hudson, coordinator of the Simi Valley/Conejo chapter of the National Organization for Women. “Their actions took courage. They did what had to be done.”
Chanting “We want to work!” and “Justice and dignity!” the protesters--a mixture of employees, union leaders and student sympathizers--marched from the plant about one mile down 3rd Street and across the Oxnard Boulevard overpass to City Hall. Cars and city trucks honked their horns in approval. One woman drove by several times with her arm out the window hoisting a large bottle of Grey Poupon, eliciting laughs from the marchers.
The workers then demanded that the mayor and council members come outside and tell them what city officials were doing to persuade Nabisco to keep their jobs in Oxnard. But the council was not present, and City Clerk Daniel Martinez was summoned instead. He passed out some forms, to be used for making formal petitions to the council, before returning inside.
“The way [the announcement] happened in such a short time, it seems like it has to be related to the lawsuit,” said 18-year employee Alfonso Juarez, who fills bottles of steak sauce on the assembly line. “If the company is making money, why move?”