The 1,400 members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union continue to stand strong on the picket lines following their overwhelming rejection of a new contract offer by Kellogg’s bosses that would have divided and weakened the union. BCTGM members have been on strike against Kellogg’s in Battle Creek, Michigan; Omaha, Nebraska; Memphis, Tennessee; and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, since Oct. 5.
“I was happy we turned down the company’s latest offer,” Christopher Hebner, a member of Local 3G in Battle Creek told the Militant. “They’re trying to break us. Our demand to end the two-tier setup is serious.”
The central issue in the strike is the company’s divisive two-tier wage-and-benefit system that allows the company to employ a layer of “transitional” workers who make lower wages, have no pension, and pay much higher health care costs.
The previous contract allowed the company to hire 30% of the workforce as “transitional” employees on the second tier, with a promise of “graduating” them to “legacy” status as older workers retired. But union members say the company has continually refused to move second-tier workers into the higher tier.
The latest contract offer called for eliminating any cap on the number of second-tier workers, alongside a new promise that more could become regular employees down the road, most after the contract would run out. This was overwhelmingly voted down by the union membership Dec. 5.
“The language as far as moving the ‘transition’ workers to ‘legacy’ status is vague to say the least,” Mike Cramutolo from Battle Creek said. He is proud union members voted no and “stuck together.”
“In the long run when there are big groups of workers retiring, new hiring would mean more and more workers would be transitional,” Local 3G President Trevor Bidelman told the Militant. “We have to look down the road to the next couple of contracts and what we will be able to win in them. If we don’t take care of the future, the future won’t take care of us. There’s a long-standing history of regular, full-time employees — not ‘legacy’ and ‘transitional.’ This is what we want to get back to.”
Dan Osborn, president of Local 50G in Omaha, told The Associated Press that some workers would have to wait as long as nine years to reach the higher “legacy” pay level under the rejected agreement. “Ultimately, we don’t want to leave anyone behind. And we want a secure future,” he said.
After the vote, Kellogg’s bosses threatened to permanently replace all the strikers. In response, the BCTGM International issued a statement saying union members would “not be bullied at the negotiating table and are ready to bargain a fair and just contract that rewards them for their hard work and does not sell out future generations of Kellogg employees.”
Bidelman said that the company is trying to bring in more scabs, and the international union has filed a suit with the National Labor Relations Board to fight it.
Much-needed solidarity continues to pour in for the strikers. The GoFundMe pages set up for the four locals report raising almost $360,000. Donations come from individual workers as well as unions and other organizations.
“Every union you can think of has been out walking the picket line with us,” Bidelman said. “And every Tuesday and Friday a local caterer called God’s Kitchen brings a hot meal to the union hall.”
Help build solidarity for the Kellogg’s strikers! To find out how you or your organization can support the strike go to the BCTGM website at bctgm.org/activism/solidarity/.