For the second time in seven years, workers at the Memphis Kellogg plant are on the picket line, striking over cuts in wage and benefits.
“We are back here because what the company is proposing now is to cut peoples’ wages, insurance benefits, retirement and pension,” said Kevin Bradshaw, vice president Local 252G of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), which represents Kellogg’s employees in Memphis.
“So, this is just a direct effect of corporate greed. We’re fighting corporate greed right now.”
The strike is part of a multi-state walkout by BCTGM members following unsuccessful negotiations over a new national contract. Workers also are striking in Battle Creek, Michigan; Omaha, Nebraska and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Union officials said a key point of disagreement is Kellogg wanting to start a two-tiered pay and benefit system, with new workers permanently receiving reduced benefits and lower pay than longtime employees.
“We are disappointed by the union’s decision to strike,” officials for Kellogg posted on the company’s website.
“Kellogg provides compensation and benefits for our U.S. RTEC (Ready to eat cereal) employees that are among the industry’s best. Our offer includes increases to pay and benefits for our employees, while helping us meet the challenges of the changing cereal business.”
Bradshaw, who has been with Kellogg for 20 years, recalled a time when someone would be hard pressed to find a company with better benefits.
“Our pension and retirement benefits were better than almost anyone in town,” said Bradshaw. “That was when the people who ran Kellogg would actually come off the floor and work their way up. But now, you have people who’ve been appointed to positions from all over the world. Making a profit is all they are concerned about. …
“This won’t even affect us,” he said. “It’s going to affect anyone who is hired after us. We are fighting for fairness in dealing with future employees. They have families, too.”
Memphis employees work seven days a week, 12-15 hours a day, said Bradshaw, because “we are here and dedicated to this company. …
“We worked around the clock in this pandemic. … The company made $380 billion the first nine months of the pandemic. They gave us two $500 bonuses. They gave their top salaried employees a 158 percent bonus. They have 25 top executives right now who make more than all 1,500 employees in a year.”
Under the proposed changes, new employees would not be eligible for a pension, retirement or health insurance after they have retired. Union negotiators and Kellogg have been haggling over these proposed new cuts for more than a year.
Dave Coleman said strikers are “out here for the long haul.
“The last time we went on strike (2013-14), we were out for 275 days,” said Coleman. “And we’re determined this time. We’re in it to see this through.”
The 2013-14 labor disagreement involved Kellogg locking out workers when the company and the union could not reach an agreement on wages and benefits. The work stoppage ended when a federal judge in Memphis ruled Kellogg had to end the lockout.
Bradshaw said there are 300 Kellogg employees at the Memphis plant and that talks between Kellogg and the union are ongoing.
In an online statement, Kellogg asserted that the average 2020 earnings for the majority of RTEC employees was $120,000.
“Most employees under this contract have unparalleled, no-cost comprehensive health insurance, while less senior employees have the same health insurance as our salaried employees, but with much lower employee contributions,” the statement read.
“Our proposals not only maintain these industry-leading level of pay and benefits, but offer significant increases in wages, benefits and retirement. …
“We remain committed to achieving a fair and competitive contract that recognizes the important work of our employees and helps ensure the long-term success of our plants and the Company. We remain ready, willing and able to continue negotiations and hope we can reach an agreement soon.”