BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Some 1,400 cereal workers, members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union, voted to end their 2 1/2 month strike against Kellogg’s, the union announced Dec. 21. The key issue in the battle was equal pay for equal work and opposition to the bosses’ two-tier pay and benefits system.
Workers had rejected two previous contract offers since the strike began. The walkout included workers in Omaha, Nebraska; Memphis, Tennessee; Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as well as here. They will return to work Dec. 27.
“We have to look out for the new employees coming up,” Tony Lund, a mechanic with 13 years seniority, told this worker-correspondent on the picket line prior to the end of the strike. “The newer employees, the ‘transitional’ workers, get less pay, no pension and less benefits. Our demand is ‘equal pay for equal work.’”
“The company wants to keep us divided,” said Trevor Bidelman, BCTGM Local 3G’s president. “We are looking out for what strengthens the unity and solidarity of the workers. The labor movement needs a moral compass.
“Only one member crossed the line here,” he added.
“Eliminating the two-tier setup isn’t our only issue. Forced overtime is another,” said Don Rothwell, who works in the power house at the plant. “I worked seven months straight without a day off. Only when my brother-in-law died did they give me one day off.
“Around 200 people attended a strike solidarity rally here Dec. 17,” he said. “The UAW and other unions joined us there.” Democratic Party Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke at the event, which was held outside corporate headquarters.
Prior to the vote, the company said their latest offer included “no new concessions, or takeaways” from the union. But that wasn’t the opinion of Battle Creek plant manager Gregory Jackson in a Dec. 17 email leaked to striking workers. Jackson wrote the new offer contained “no gain overall for them, with 3 more weeks on strike and no income.”
His comments are “appalling. But don’t surprise me at all,” Donivan Williams, a member of the BCTGM Local 3G executive board, told the Michigan Advance. The strike was called “because of the way that people have been treated.”
Fellow cereal workers from the Post Consumer Brands plant located just down the street have joined the picket lines, striker Damion Kreger said. He told this worker-correspondent that a union-organized Christmas party was held for the strikers’ children Dec. 11 where presents were distributed.
“Staying out this long was a huge step. We inspired many people,” Bidelman told the Huffington Post after the vote was announced. The tally has not been disclosed, but Bidelman thought the vote was close.
Under the new contract, “unfortunately, I think some people will get stuck in transitional [jobs]” he said. “At our local we were a little disappointed. That being said, we’ve got to take some time and reflection.”
“I’m glad that we’re returning to work,” Scott Evans, a striker at the Memphis plant told the Militant by phone Dec. 21. “I hope our fight was enough to make life better for the newer and future workers.”