Kellogg’s workers end their strike against the cereal giant
Striking Kellogg’s workers Michael Rodarte, Sue Griffin, Michael Elliott, Eric Bates and Mark Gonzalez stand outside the Omaha, Neb., cereal plant on, Dec. 2, 2021. | Josh Funk/AP

Kellogg’s workers called off their strike against the cereal giant Tuesday, Dec. 21, after almost three months on the picket line.

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union announced workers approved a five-year contract with the company. Voting took place over the weekend.

Anthony Shelton, the union’s president, said in a statement that workers “courageously stood their ground” and secured a contract that “makes gains and does not include any concessions.”

Some 1,400 workers at four facilities in Battle Creek, Mich.; Lancaster, Penn.; Omaha, Neb.; and Memphis, Tenn., struck the company, drastically reducing the supplies on supermarket shelves of two of the best-selling cereals in the U.S., Rice Krispies, and Corn Flakes.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to striking Kellogg’s workers outside the company’s world headquarters in Battle Creek, Mich., on Dec. 17. | People’s World

One of the main causes of the protracted strike was the company’s “two-tier” pay and benefits system that divides workers into “legacy” employees and “transitional” employees. “Legacy” workers, earning up to $30 an hour, have higher pay and better health and pension benefits than “transitional” workers who toil alongside them doing essentially the same work.

Under the new contract, all workers will receive an immediate raise, after which they’ll receive a cost-of-living adjustment each year of the contract, according to the company. The new starting rate for transitional employees will be $24.11 per hour, the company says. Health care plans will stay the same and pension benefits will increase for legacy workers, according to both the company and the union.

The contract also promises that no plants will be shut down through October 2026.

The hated two-tier system is not completely ended under the new contract. According to the company, however, transitional employees who have four years or more seniority will move into legacy positions now.

Initially, Kellogg’s plan was to actually expand the lower tier, with the opening of positions in the top tier from departing employees being the only way for transitional workers to move up. The company wanted a permanent cap on the number of top-tier workers.

The union noted in its statement that the new contract means “no permanent two-tier system.” The statement is being interpreted by some as misleading, however, because the contract does not put an end to that system any time in the near future.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., addressed striking Kellogg’s workers in downtown Battle Creek on Dec. 17. At that Friday rally, workers told local and national press that they did not trust the company to agree to a fair deal.

Santa Solidarity: Old Saint Nick joins the picket line in Battle Creek on Dec. 17. | People’s World

One worker People’s World spoke with by telephone the morning after the deal was announced thought the contract was a victory. Another felt it was not a win because the two-tier system is maintained and acts as a downward pressure on wages for all workers, regardless of tier.

Some union local presidents have been, since the announcement, telling workers that the contract does at least improve the two-tier system by immediately graduating workers who’ve had four years at their plants into the higher tier and by, each year of the contract, moving 3% of each plant into the higher tier.

Those percentages are low, however, and workers at the Dec. 17 rally let reporters know that they were not pleased at all with the two-tier system.

Sanders summed thing up when he spoke in Battle Creek: “You don’t treat people who gave their lives to your company by threatening them with permanent replacements…. If you love America, you love the workers. And if you love American workers, you don’t ship their jobs to desperate people in Mexico and pay ‘em 90 cents an hour.”

By standing firm, the workers at the nation’s biggest cereal giant have successfully shown, however, their determination to fight and win when big business tries to trample on their rights. By joining the massive strike wave rolling over the country, they have proven that workers cannot be ignored.


CONTRIBUTOR

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

Strike Supporters
Strike Supporters

Kellog workers strike supporters, 2021.

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