Kellogg has said it is permanently replacing 1,400 workers who have been on strike since October, a decision that comes as the majority of its cereal plant workforce rejected a deal that would have provided 3% raises.
The Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) International Union said an overwhelming majority of workers had voted down the five-year offer.
The decision follows months of bitter disagreement between the company and the union. The rejected offer would have provided cost of living adjustments in the later years of the deal and preserved the workers’ current healthcare benefits. But workers say they deserve significant raises because they routinely work more than 80 hours a week, and they kept the plants running throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Employees have been striking since 5 October at plants in Michigan, Nebraska and Pennsylvania and Tennessee. They make all of the company’s well-known brands of cereal, including Apple Jacks and Frosted Flakes. That strike is expected to continue.
“The members have spoken. The strike continues,” the union president, Anthony Shelton, said. “The International Union will continue to provide full support to our striking Kellogg’s members.”
Workers say they are also protesting planned job cuts and offshoring, and a proposed two-tier system that gives newer workers at the plants less pay and fewer benefits. Speaking to the Guardian in October, Trevor Bidelman, president of BCTGM Local3G and a fourth-generation employee at the Kellogg plant in Battle Creek, Michigan, described it as a “fight for our future”.
“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,” said Bidelman. “We don’t have weekends, really. We just work seven days a week, sometimes 100 to 130 days in a row. For 28 days, the machines run, then rest three days for cleaning. They don’t even treat us as well as they do their machinery.”
Kellogg said it would now move forward with plans to start hiring permanent replacements for the striking workers. The company has already been using salaried employees and outside workers to keep the plants operating during the strike.
“While certainly not the result we had hoped for, we must take the necessary steps to ensure business continuity,” said Chris Hood, president of Kellogg North America. “We have an obligation to our customers and consumers to continue to provide the cereals that they know and love.”
The Rutgers University professor Todd Vachon, who teaches classes about labor relations, said he was not sure the company would be able to hire enough workers to replace the ones who are out on strike in the current economy, and Kellogg may have a hard time finding people willing to cross a picket line.
“By voting ‘no’, the workers are making a strong statement that they are not satisfied by the agreement, but they are also signaling they believe they have the leverage that’s needed to win more,” Vachon said.
Earlier this year, about 600 food workers also went on strike at a Frito-Lay plant in Topeka, Kansas, and 1,000 others walked off the job at five Nabisco plants across the US. In another recent strike, over 10,000 Deere workers secured 10% raises and improved benefits but those gains came after the workers remained on strike for a month and rejected two offers from the company.
The offer that Kellogg workers rejected was the first one they have voted on since the strike began.
Michael Sainato contributed reporting