BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Morale was high on the picket lines in front of the Kellogg’s plant here Nov. 28 in spite of the freezing cold, wind, and snow that occasionally blasted the strikers. Some 325 workers are on strike at this plant along with over 1,000 other Kellogg’s cereal workers in Omaha, Nebraska; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Memphis, Tennessee. Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union members have been on strike against Kellogg’s since Oct. 5.
The main issue is the divisive two-tier system, which allows the company to employ a layer of workers who make significantly lower wages, have no pension, and pay much higher health care costs. Mike Cramutob, a union member on the picket line, said, “Our goal is to erase the second tier.” He said the company is also demanding workers give up cost-of-living increases that defend their wages from inflation. Other outstanding issues include retirement benefits and holiday and vacation pay.
Workers on the Battle Creek picket line, members of BCTGM Local 3G, were excited to hear they had received a big donation from United Auto Workers members who just ended a strike at John Deere, where they made gains.
UAW Local 74’s Facebook page reports, “As we return to work and begin to start the holiday season, remember our brothers and sisters that work for Kellogg’s are still holding the line and are still on strike. The UAW Local 74 Leadership has decided to split up the food supplies left from the strike to give to these brothers and sisters. We have members going to deliver these items to Battle Creek, Michigan, and over to Omaha, Nebraska.” Local 74 is based in Ottumwa, Iowa.
Solidarity is crucial for the strikers, who’ve been on the picket line for almost two months.
The UAW international website prominently features an article about the Kellogg’s strike and encourages all UAW members to visit a picket line, send a letter of support, and/or donate to the strike fund. Several workers said what a big boost to morale it was to get the donation from UAW members at John Deere. Wyatt Elmore, a maintenance worker, said he had made trips to the Deere strike in Omaha and in Moline, Illinois. He has also volunteered to join other union members to visit Kellogg’s picket lines in Memphis and Lancaster.
“Some of the workers from the plant here are planning to travel to the other cities where Kellogg’s workers are on strike to build solidarity,” said Damion Kreger, “We talk all the time about how important this fight is and what it’s going to take to get workers fighting together. I have confidence we can do it.”
“We’re a strong union town,” he said. “Just like in Memphis, where they have the history of the civil rights movement, here in Battle Creek we were a stop on the Underground Railroad during slavery. Sojourner Truth lived here during the last years of her life and the town honored her with a statue and a wall full of plaques. People of Battle Creek come from this tradition.”
Kreger said he had been preparing for this fight for years. “We all knew this was coming because of the way the company has treated us,” he said. Kreger was hired as a casual worker and “treated even worse than the ‘transitional’ workers” on today’s two-tier setup.
“We had no insurance or benefits, we made about $19 an hour. They could change our shifts, or work us overtime at any time, and fire us for any reason,” he said. “I sometimes worked day shift one day, then nights the next, then days again the next. I gave it my all because I wanted to become a legacy employee. I was so stressed I got shingles at age 35, but I never missed a day of work even when I had it.”
“I’ve heard that a couple of workers from Battle Creek have visited the picket lines in Memphis and other cities,” said BCTGM International Representative Lisa Gregory in a Nov. 29 phone interview. “These are rank-and-file workers who just get in a car and go. Back in 2013 when the Kellogg’s workers in Memphis were locked out, there were workers from all the other plants who went there to show solidarity. I hope that we can get more strikers to travel to other places where there are strikes going on. There are strikes all over the country right now.”
Strike battle at Warrior Met Coal
One of the longest strike battles in the country is the fight by 1,100 United Mine Workers union members against Warrior Met Coal bosses in Brookwood, Alabama. Their strike began April 1. The miners are fighting to retake gains they were forced to give up in 2016 after the previous owner, Jim Walters Resources, went bankrupt. Their wages were cut by $6 an hour and pensions and health insurance slashed.
They’re also fighting against one of the most severe court injunctions against picketing the labor movement has faced in decades. They are barred from any kind of union activity within 300 yards of entrances to the mining complex. The union organized protests against the anti-working-class court order across the country Nov. 18.
The company is trying to break us,” UMW striker Steven Mote told the Militant in a Nov. 30 phone interview. “Most of the guys are working other jobs now, in addition to doing their picket duty.” Mote said he’s working as a truck driver for a chicken processing company. “The court injunction against us is totally unconstitutional,” he said. “It’s against freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. We need to get back on the picket line, big time.
“The court is in the company’s pocket,” he added.
Kellogg to hire replacement workers
On Nov. 22 BCTGM union and company negotiators met, but the talks went nowhere. After talks broke off, Kellogg’s bosses announced they would start hiring permanent replacement workers.
“These are empty threats,” said Gregory. “They are hoping to scare workers into accepting their offer. But our members are standing strong.”
Production remains very low at the Battle Creek plant, Gregory and pickets told the Militant. Elmore and Chris Hebner said what’s being produced there isn’t fit for human consumption and is being sold off as animal feed.
“The boxes of cereal on store shelves now are from Mexico,” said Gregory. “You can tell by the code on the box and the fact they don’t have a union label.”
A new round of negotiations was scheduled for Nov. 30. “The big issue is still the ‘transitional’ employees,” said Gregory. “The company thought they could divide the workforce” using two tiers, “but instead we’ve become more united. They really underestimated the workers.
Around the holidays “we’re encouraging other locals of the BCTGM to come out to the picket lines with donations and support, as well as other unions and anyone who wants to support us,” Gregory said. “Any kind of support is welcome, a card, a visit, a shoutout on Facebook.”
Support the strikers! Visit their picket lines or go to the BCTGM.org website where you can post a contribution to each of the four striking union locals.
Susan LaMont in Atlanta contributed to this article.