NLRB heads to court to stop Kellogg’s lockout of Memphis workers

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (PAI) — National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Richard Griffin is heading for federal court to stop the Kellogg cereal company’s long lockout of its unionized workers in its Memphis, Tenn., plant. No court date is set yet.

The Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM), who represent the Memphis workers, said the NLRB voted 5-0 to have Griffin seek an injunction ordering Kellogg’s to stop the lockout and take the workers back. Such injunctions are rare, especially before the NLRB actually hears the case after the dispute makes its way to Washington from local offices.

The board’s decision to head for court “recognizes Kellogg’s illegal positions and iron-fisted conduct were so destructive to these workers’ rights and lives that immediate court relief is required,” said BCGTM President David Durkee.

In a dispute that, for civil rights groups, carries echoes of the 1968 sanitation workers’ struggle that drew the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to Memphis, Kellogg’s locked its 226 mostly minority workers out of the plant months ago.

The NLRB approved the court case filing on April 4, the anniversary of King’s assassination. It’s separate from the NLRB’s administrative law judge’s hearing on Kellogg’s overall labor law-breaking in bargaining and in imposing the lockout of Local 252-G. That hearing will be May 5 in Memphis. Kellogg’s locked out the workers after demanding they cut their pay, yield to outsourcing and give up medical coverage.

“The board’s action to seek injunctive relief magnifies the depth and severity of these violations and the callous human tragedy brought on by Kellogg’s illegally conceived and brutally implemented plan of action,” Durkee said. “The harm those violations are causing Kellogg workers has been clearly recognized by the federal government, which is apparent in the NLRB 5-member board unanimously seeking this injunctive relief.”

Griffin, the NLRB’s top enforcement officer and former general counsel for the Operating Engineers, asked for the May 5 hearing because his office believes Kellogg’s is in “severe violation” of labor law in the lockout.

“The NLRB complaint alleges Kellogg violated the NLRA by insisting to impasse on bargaining proposals that would constitute midterm modifications to the wage and benefit provisions of the master agreement between Kellogg and the union, by locking out Memphis unit employees in furtherance of its bad-faith bargaining position, and by

failing to provide requested information that would assist the union in its representational capacity and in assessing Kellogg’s bargaining proposals,” an NLRB announcement of that hearing said.

Labor law orders an employer to bargain in good faith, adding that when it wants to change a contract mid-term, it must reach agreement with the union, first. In Memphis, Griffin said, Kellogg’s didn’t do so.

“Kellogg’s repeated statements that it wants its employees back at work as soon as possible are the worst kind of corporate hypocrisy. Kellogg locked out its workers illegally; workers did not strike,” Durkee said. “And Kellogg’s ‘offer’ to let them come back to work has always been conditioned on its demand that workers approve illegal proposals.

“The union has said – repeatedly – that it will bargain over all lawful subjects for a new Memphis contract as soon as Kellogg’s opens the gates and brings its employees back. But we will not negotiate with the gun of unlawful conduct to our heads.”

Griffin also acted in another long-running case of labor law-breaking: T-Mobile’s rampant unfair labor practices against the Communications Workers.

The union has been trying to organize T-Mobile workers for a decade, and has an alliance with ver.di, the union that represents workers at T-Mobile’s German parent company, Deutsche Telekom, to pressure DT to have its U.S. managers follow international labor rights and not break U.S. labor law.

T-Mobile has refused. CWA has already won at least one battle against it, forcing T-Mobile to take back workers in Brooklyn whom the NLRB’s administrative law judge there ruled the firm illegally fired. But the union also has complaints pending against T-Mobile elsewhere. Griffin decided to roll all the complaints into one big case.

“Over the past decade, complaints were repeatedly issued against T-Mobile US in different regional offices,” of the board, CWA said. The NLRB voted unanimously to let Griffin “consolidate a group of current unfair labor practice complaints challenging the company’s disciplinary actions targeting union activists and its overly broad company rules and policies into one national case” and hold that hearing in Albuquerque, N.M.

The same NLRB officials now trying a CWA complaint against T-Mobile’s labor-law breaking in Wichita, Kansas, will travel to Albuquerque, the announcement added.

CWA called that “an important step” because T-Mobile must now defend its company-wide conduct, orchestrated from its Bellevue, Wash., U.S. headquarters. If Griffin wins, the judgment would be company-wide, too.

Photo: Union officers and Local 252G Kellogg workers march in the ML. King parade in Memphis, January 2014. #KelloggGreed Twitter






Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.