MEMPHIS - A federal judge in Memphis, Tenn., has ordered Kellogg's to take back the 226 union workers it locked out from its cereal plant there over nine months ago.
The workers, members of Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 252G, must return to their old positions and the firm must resume bargaining with the local within five days, U.S. District Judge Samuel Mays ruled on July 31.
Mays also ordered Kellogg's to re-establish its old employment conditions and told the iconic cereal maker to report to him within 20 days on how it complied with his order. He called ending the lockout "just and proper."
Kellogg's lockout of the mostly minority workforce nine months ago has become a cause for the union and for civil rights groups nationwide. That's because profitable Kellogg's demanded the workers take deep pay cuts, pay more for their health insurance and allow the firm to outsource their jobs. When they refused, it locked them out.
"A federal judge agreed entirely and unequivocally with the union and the National Labor Relations Board. Judge Mays rejected each and every argument Kellogg has made since this dispute began," BCTGM President David Durkee said.
"Our members and their families have been subjected to more than 280 days of unnecessary pain and suffering at the hands of Kellogg. We applaud Judge Mays for beginning the process of righting this senseless tactic that was brutally imposed on these workers and their families. We look forward to our members returning to do what they do best: Producing a quality product."
Mays called the lockout "unlawfully coercive" and said it "discriminates against the employees for their participation in protected collective bargaining activity."
The judge added that "Kellogg's proposals were not to change the casual employee program, as it insists it had the right to demand. Rather, Kellogg effectively demanded changes to the wage rates of new or rehired regular employees. Those rates are set in the master agreement," between BCTGM and Kellogg's covering all unionized plants.
"The good-faith bargaining required by" labor law "does not allow Kellogg to use creative semantics to force midterm changes in the wages of new or rehired regular employees in violation of the master agreement," Mays' ruling declared.
"The lockout, which has deprived the employees of their pay and health insurance, has been ongoing for nine months. The administrative process may continue for many months and even years to come. To allow the lockout to continue through that period would place significant hardship on employees in furtherance of Kellogg's bargaining position, which the National Labor Relations Board has reasonable cause to believe is unlawful. That would undermine the remedial powers of the board" to enforce labor law, the judge said.