Kellogg's faces political pressure to resume talks with strikers
Omaha, Neb. — Kellogg Co. is facing increasing political pressure to resume contract talks with its 1,400 striking cereal plant workers.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts sent a letter to the company's CEO this week urging Kellogg's to return to the bargaining table with workers at its four plants nationwide, including one in his state. That came just a few days after President Joe Biden criticized Kellogg's for threatening to hire permanent replacements for the workers who have been on strike since Oct. 5.
Ricketts said in his letter that the Battle Creek-based company should recognize the contributions its workers have made during the pandemic by continuing to produce its well-known brands of cereal and try to retain them during this period when many companies are struggling to hire enough workers.
“Despite the challenges of the global pandemic, they showed up day after day to do their jobs so that across the country there was food on the shelves," said Ricketts, the Nebraska Republican. "These workers helped Kellogg's increase sales and revenue (and grow net income by over 30%) from 2019 to 2020 — a time when many businesses endured losses due to the financial headwinds of the pandemic.”
Members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union overwhelmingly rejected a contract offer from the company last week that would have delivered 3% raises and preserved their current health benefits.
Union members have said they remain concerned about the company's two-tiered system of wages that has been a sticking point during contract talks. The company said its offer would have allowed all workers with at least four years of experience move up to the higher legacy pay level, but union officials said the plan wouldn't let other workers move up quickly enough. And the company proposed eliminating the current 30% cap on the number of workers at each plant who receive those lower wages.
Biden said in a statement Friday he believes Kellogg’s was undermining the collective bargaining process with its plan to hire permanent replacements for the striking workers.
“I am deeply troubled by reports of Kellogg’s plans to permanently replace striking workers from the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International during their ongoing collective bargaining negotiations,” said Biden, the Democrat who has long been a strong supporter of unions. “Permanently replacing striking workers is an existential attack on the union and its members’ jobs and livelihoods.”
Throughout the strike, Kellogg's has been trying to keep its plants operating with salaried employees and outside workers, but it said after the contract vote that it would move forward with plans to hire permanent replacements.
Kellogg’s spokeswoman Kris Bahner said the company believes its contract offers have been fair and it remains willing to negotiate with the union although no additional talks are scheduled at the moment. She said last week’s offer would have improved workers’ wages and benefits.
“We are very disappointed that it was ultimately rejected. We have an obligation to our customers and consumers to continue to provide the cereals that they know and love — as well as to the thousands of people we employ,” Bahner said.
The strike includes four plants in Battle Creek; Omaha, Nebraska; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Memphis, Tennessee, that make all of Kellogg’s brands of cereal, including Rice Krispies and Apple Jacks.