Kellogg’s workers reject proposed contract; company threatens ‘permanent replacements’
Kelly Stokes, Kathy Webb, LaKisha Scott, and Brenda Flemons picket outside Kellogg Co. on Nov. 23, 2021, at the Porter Street plant in Battle Creek, Mich. Kellogg's is threatening to start hiring permanent replacements for some of the 1,400 striking cereal plant workers. | Alyssa Keown / Battle Creek Enquirer via AP

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (PAI)—By “an overwhelming margin,” the 1,400 Kellogg’s workers forced to strike on Oct. 5, voted down a proposed contract exactly two months later, the Bakery, Confectionery, and Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) announced on Dec. 7. The union did not specify why workers rejected it.

The rejection meant the strike continues even despite a snowstorm that night at the Kellogg’s plant and headquarters in Battle Creek, Mich. Pickets are also up at its plants in Lancaster, Pa., Memphis, Tenn., and Omaha, Neb.

“The members have spoken. The strike continues,” union President Anthony Shelton said in a statement. “The international union will continue to provide full support to our striking Kellogg’s members.

“The BCTGM is grateful for the outpouring of fraternal support we received from across the labor movement for our striking members at Kellogg’s. Solidarity is critical to this fight.”

The forced strike at Kellogg’s is similar to other forced strikes this year. Firms have forced hundreds of thousands of workers to walk by refusing to budge on low pay, lousy and sometimes dangerous working conditions, benefit cutbacks, and two-tier wage systems—all at a time of record corporate profits, including at Kellogg’s.

Workers, believing they have additional leverage due to labor “shortages” due to the coronavirus pandemic—shortages employers bring on themselves by refusing to increase pay and improve working conditions—have been forced to walk and/or, after long virus-caused layoffs, find other, better jobs.

Workers at Mondelez (Oreo), John Deere, and other manufacturers have had it up to here with corporate exploitation. The same reason held for more than 30,000 Kaiser Permanente Health Care System workers in Southern California and 6,300 TAs, RAs and researchers at the University of California system, where both won.

It’s also why grad student worker-teachers at Columbia University in New York have been forced into their fourth strike in three years. Despite wide support and National Labor Relations Board orders, the university refuses to recognize the union, an Auto Workers local, refuses to bargain, and threatens them with employment loss next semester.

Prior news reports said Kelloggs’s two-tier wage system was a big issue. It produced huge pay differences between veteran workers and the 30% of workers who are new hires since 2015, and no health care benefits for the new hires. And the workers also said the firm forced them to toil 80 hours a week, in 12-hour shifts, including through the coronavirus pandemic. Most of the new hires are workers of color.

The news reports also said Kellogg’s offered 3% yearly raises in a five-year pact and cost of living increases in its latter years, but did not budge on curbing the overtime or the two-tier system. The overtime exploitation also led dozens of veteran workers to retire.

Reports also quoted a company spokesperson as saying the firm, which has tried to keep churning out cereal via imports from abroad and limited production at home using supervisors, will now seek “permanent replacements” for the workers Kellogg’s forced to strike.

“The company’s made a fortune in recent years and they’re fighting to take away our necessities and all that the union has won,” Local 252G Vice President Kevin Bradshaw told The American Prospect.

The widespread support for the workers Shelton cited showed up on Twitter under the hashtag #KelloggStrike. It was rife with statements of solidarity, including one from AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, and suggestions to consumers to buy breakfast cereals from other manufacturers, notably Post.

“Today is Day 55 of the @BCTGM @Kellogg’s strike, where workers are fighting for fair wages, working conditions, and an end to the exploitive two-tier system that pays new hires less,” Shuler tweeted on Dec. 1. “Are you near a picket line? Help #HoldTheLine today!”

One of the longest, and most poignant messages, came from Robert Hart, whose parents worked at Battle Creek.

“I am a Kellogg kid,” he began. “My father worked 27 years in the machine shop. My mother worked 10 years in the corporate headquarters in the credit dept…I went to the union hall on Thanksgiving Day. I have spent many hours talking to picketers. I am a former co-worker of several of the skilled trades personnel.

“I have put 1000 or better miles on my truck in the last 6-8 weeks driving back and forth between hospitals, the lawyers office, the union hall, and the picket tents in Battle Creek,” he continued later. “My mother passed on Nov. 4th, 2021. My father and I dropped off a load of wood to the union hall two days later. I took my father to the union hall to pay his retiree dues on Nov. 10th, 2021. He participated in the strike of 1972. He read the articles in the Battle Creek Enquirer print edition.

“He truly watched the local news closely for the first time since 2018 when he began being my mother’s caregiver. My father passed away on Nov. 23rd, 2021. I, as a trustee, made a donation the day he passed. I gave it directly to the union president myself at the union hall. I have a daughter-in-law that works at Post—they are watching, they are donating, they are not the only ones. The nation is watching, the unions all across this country are watching.

“Now that they have both passed, I am dedicating some of my time every day (time and money) to helping the union in their memory. I am not looking for fame—I visit late at night, I try to motivate the workers that have no idea. I am going to fight beside the Local #3. I want to carry a picket sign after my father’s funeral on Dec. 1st, 2021. Who will join me?”

Check out 5 ways YOU can support the striking Kellogg’s workers.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

Comments

comments