Work at Kellogg’s Co. cereal plants in the U.S. came to a halt this week as more than a thousand workers went on strike over expired union contracts and accusations that jobs are moving offshore.
In Battle Creek, Mich.; Lancaster, Pa.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Omaha, Neb., about 1,400 workers went on strike after yearlong negotiations unraveled.
The company and employees are gridlocked over pay and benefits, including health care and retirement, NBC News reports. Union leaders also say the company is threatening to offshore jobs to Mexico.
Daniel Osborn, president of the local union in Omaha, says one of the issues concerning pay is the proposed two-tier wage system at Kellogg’s, he told NBC.
As a lower-tier employee, one makes $11 or $12 less than a regular tier; they also have higher insurance premiums and less vacations, Osborn said.
Kerry Williams, a Lancaster processing maintenance worker told Vice News that some workers are being overworked — 12 or 16 hours a day.
Williams also told The Guardian that the workplace conditions at Kellogg’s feels “like a death of 1,000 cuts. They’re slowly eliminating jobs out of the Lancaster plant.”
“We had to work through this COVID for the last two years and they’ve just shown disrespect for the union name. They even want to remove our union logo from the cardboard cereal box,” Williams added.
The Guardian also reports that the company threatened the union that it would outsource jobs to Mexico if their terms were not accepted.
In a statement, Kellogg’s spokesperson Kris Bahner said the company has not proposed moving any plants or jobs outside of the U.S. as part of these negotiations.
“Most employees under this contract have unparalleled, no-cost comprehensive health insurance, while less senior employees have the same health insurance as our salaried employees, but with much lower employee contributions,” Bahner said in a statement. “Our proposals not only maintain these industry-leading level of pay and benefits, but offer significant increases in wages, benefits and retirement.”
Trevor Bidelman, president of BCTGM Local3G, is leading their efforts from Battle Creek. He told The Guardian that Kellogg’s does not want to offer pensions to new employees, as well as wants to remove cost of living provisions and make changes in holiday pay and vacations.
“We’re fighting for our future,” Bidelman said. “We made it very clear from the onset of negotiations that this was not something we’ll be able to accept.”
Battle Creek has experienced similar layoffs in the past. In 2018, 187 workers lost their jobs after some of the tasks shifted to Canada and other U.S. plants. In 2016, more than 30 workers were laid off from Battle Creek. In a petition filed for Trade Adjustment Assistance, employees wrote the separations occurred because “the company is going through a global restructuring. India took over a portion of the day to day operations.”
In an email, Kellogg’s said those jobs were not at the plant and were salaried, corporate jobs.
In Memphis, the company has been trying to redefine the concept of being “casual” workers in order to reduce wages and benefits, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) claims as Kellogg’s locked out about 220 workers from October 2013 to August 2014.
The NLRB determined the lockout was illegal and demanded that employees get reinstated their compensation of wages and benefits they lost, but in 2016 a federal appeals court overturned that ruling.
“We are disappointed by the union’s decision to strike. Kellogg provides compensation and benefits for our US RTEC employees that are among the industry’s best. Our offer includes increases to pay and benefits for our employees, while helping us meet the challenges of the changing cereal business,” a Kellogg’s spokesperson said in a statement about the strike.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Oct. 8 to reflect a statement from Kellogg’s and to clarify dates.
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