Kellogg workers strike alleging company slowly sends jobs outside the country
A year ago, the essential workforce kept the operation running amid the dark days of the pandemic
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About 1,400 workers at four Kellogg’s U.S. plants have gone on strike after their current union contracts expired and amid accusations that the cereal giant is offshoring jobs.
The workers, represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), produce cereals for brands including Rice Krispies, Fruit Loops and Raisin Bran, at plants in Michigan, Tennessee, Nebraska and Pennsylvania.
Trevor Bidelman, president of BCTGM Local36 and a fourth-generation employee at the Kellogg’s plant in Battle Creek, Michigan told The Guardian that workers are striking against a proposed two-tier system for current and new employees.
“OUR FUTURE IS NOT FOR SALE!”— Dana Whyte (@dwhytereports) October 5, 2021
Kellogg Company employees are on strike this morning in Battle Creek. The Union's five-year contract with the company expired last night. Workers say they want livable wages and better benefits. @WOODTV pic.twitter.com/cKC6eZIdFB
Bidelman said that the company wants to stop offering pensions to new employees, remove cost of living provisions, and make changes in holiday pay and vacations.
“We’re fighting for our future. We made it very clear from the onset of negotiations that this was not something we’ll be able to accept,” Bidelman said.
Shortly before the strike began, the company announced plans to cut 212 jobs at the plant in Battle Creek over the next two years, including 174 positions represented by the union.
“This is after just one year ago, we were hailed as heroes, as we worked through the pandemic, seven days a week, 16 hours a day. Now apparently, we are no longer heroes. Very quickly you can go from hero to zero,” Bidelman said.
Bidelman also said that he and other employees barely have weekends, sometimes working 100 to 130 days consecutively.
“They don’t even treat us as well as they do their machinery,” he said.
The union took issue with the cereal giant threatening to outsource jobs from the U.S. to Mexico if workers refuse to accept the new proposals.
“The company continues to threaten to send additional jobs to Mexico if workers do not accept outrageous proposals to take away protections that workers have had for decades,” Anthony Shelton, BCTGM president said in a statement announcing the strikes.
In 2018, 187 workers were fired at the Battle Creek plant, with work being transferred to Canada and other plants in the U.S.
About two years earlier, over 30 workers were laid off from the plant, with jobs outsourced to India, according to approved Trade Adjustment Assistance petitions.
Kerry Williams, who works in processing maintenance at the facility in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, told The Guardian that it feels like “a death of 1,000 cuts.”
Kellogg’s is also slowly eliminating jobs out of the Lancaster plant. Williams has worked through the pandemic for the last two years and feels that the company has shown major disrespect to the union.
“They even want to remove our union logo from the cardboard cereal box,” she said.
Kellogg's on strike. Solidarity to all the lovely people I've met at these plants. The schedules they've endured since the pandemic are what millions of other workers in dozens of other industries are experiencing.— margaret (@mags_mclaugh) October 5, 2021
Enough is enough, give us 40 hours a week again. https://t.co/cDKzMuQfXf pic.twitter.com/BHCZ5f8s7m
From October 2013 to November 2014, Kellogg’s locked out over 200 workers from their plant in Memphis, Tennessee, while attempting to recategorize some employees as “casual” in order to reduce their wages and benefits.
“The sooner our members and their families in Memphis are made financially whole for this injustice, the sooner we can approach a more constructive and productive relationship with Kellogg,” BCTGM International President David B. Durkee wrote in a statement.
The National Labor Relations ultimately ruled that the lockout was illegal and ordered the locked-out employees to be reinstated with compensation for the wages and benefits they lost, but in 2016 a federal appeals court overturned that decision.
Kevin Bradshaw, who has worked at the Memphis plant for 20 years, told Huffington Post that what the company is asking would undermine the union’s solidarity.
“You’re driving the workforce into the ground by separating people and not treating them equally,” he said. “Same job, less money. Who would want to work that way?”