By Mike Pomranz
Deciding to go on strike isn’t easy, but when Kellogg’s cereal plant workers walked off the job back on October 5, the decision might have seemed pretty straightforward. Similar strikes from other members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union (BCTGM) at Frito-Lay and Nabisco had resulted in new contracts and ongoing labor issues in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic had seemed to put leverage in the workers’ hands.
But over two months later, the dispute is still ongoing — and things appear worse for both sides.
During a December 5 vote, Union members rejected a potential five-year deal. At that point, Kellogg’s said they planned to start hiring permanent replacements for the 1,400 striking employees, according to The Guardian. “While certainly not the result we had hoped for, we must take the necessary steps to ensure business continuity,” Chris Hood, president of Kellogg North America, was quoted as saying at the time. “We have an obligation to our customers and consumers to continue to provide the cereals that they know and love.”
But just how much people will still love these cereals is coming into question. Beyond the usual calls for boycotts, a social media campaign launched on Reddit asking people to spam Kellogg’s online application portal appeared to gain significant traction. Then on Friday, President Biden issued a statement directly addressing the Kellogg’s collective bargaining negotiations, saying that he was “deeply troubled by reports of Kellogg’s plans to permanently replace striking workers.”
“Permanently replacing striking workers is an existential attack on the union and its members’ jobs and livelihoods. I have long opposed permanent striker replacements and I strongly support legislation that would ban that practice. And such action undermines the critical role collective bargaining plays in providing workers a voice and the opportunity to improve their lives while contributing fully to their employer’s success,” Biden continued. “Unions built the middle class of this country. My unyielding support for unions includes support for collective bargaining, and I will aggressively defend both.”
When asked to address President Biden’s statement, Kellogg’s spokesperson Kris Bahner responded with a statement saying, “We agree that this needs to be solved at the bargaining table. Our objective has been — and continues to be — to reach a fair agreement for our people.”
“We have made every effort to reach a fair agreement, including making six comprehensive offers to the union throughout negotiations, all which have included wage and benefits increases for every employee on top of an industry-leading compensation package,” Bahner continued, delving into specifics. “The average 2020 earnings for the majority of hourly RTEC employees was $120,000, nearly $36/hour straight time for our legacy employees. The tentative agreement was a fully negotiated deal between Kellogg and the union, and contained no concessions or takeaways — only increases in wages and benefits. We are very disappointed that it was ultimately rejected.”
Kellogg’s did not answer a question asking if the social media campaign to flood them with applications has had any effect on their hiring efforts.