Strike By A Thousand-Plus Kellogg's Workers to Continue After They Reject Company's Offer

Over a thousand Kellogg's workers continue to strike after they rejected the company's latest contract offer Tuesday.

A majority of workers voted to reject the offer, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union said. The five-year offer included cost-of-living adjustments in the latter years of the deal and kept the current healthcare benefits.

"The members have spoken. The strike continues," union President Anthony Shelton said. "The International Union will continue to provide full support to our striking Kellogg's members."

One issue in the negotiations is the company's two-tiered wage system that gives newer workers at the plants less pay and benefits. Nearly 30 percent of those working at the plants are given these lower wages. With the latest contract offer, Kellogg's said workers with four years of experience minimum can move up immediately to the higher pay level, with other workers moving up later.

However, Dan Osborn, president of the local Omaha union, said it would not allow enough workers to move up quickly, making some newer workers potentially wait as long as nine years before they can move in pay level.

"Ultimately, we don't want to leave anyone behind. And we want a secure future," Osborn said.

Kellogg's said it would begin with plans to hire permanent replacements for the workers striking. The company has been using outside workers to continue operating plants amid the strike.

"While certainly not the result we had hoped for, we must take the necessary steps to ensure business continuity," Chris Hood, president of Kellogg North America, said. "We have an obligation to our customers and consumers to continue to provide the cereals that they know and love."

The workers from plants in Battle Creek, Michigan, Omaha, Nebraska, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Memphis, Tennessee, have been on strike since Oct. 5.

Kelloggs, Strike, Offer Rejection
Striking Kellogg's workers Michael Rodarte, Sue Griffin, Michael Elliott, Eric Bates and Mark Gonzalez stand outside the Omaha, Neb., cereal plant Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021. Since striking workers rejected Kellogg's latest contract offer Tuesday, the company said it would begin plans to hire permanent replacements. Josh Funk/AP Photo

Rutgers University professor Todd Vachon, who teaches classes about labor relations, said he's not sure the company will be able to hire enough workers to replace the ones who are out on strike in the current economy, and Kellogg's may have a hard time finding people willing to cross a picket line.

"By voting 'no,' the workers are making a strong statement that they are not satisfied by the agreement, but they are also signaling they believe they have the leverage that's needed to win more," Vachon said.

Omaha union members would also like to see the company offer bigger raises to its mechanics and electricians so Kellogg's can better compete for those workers, Osborn said.

Victor Chen, a sociologist at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies labor, said he understands why the union is taking a stand against the two-tiered wage system because it is a divisive issue within its ranks.

"A union depends on the solidarity of its members," Chen said. "When you have two-tiered systems -- which have become popular in corporate America -- you're weakening that solidarity. It turns workers against each other."

At times during the strike, the disagreements between the company and the union turned bitter.

Kellogg's went to court in Omaha in November to secure an order that set guidelines for how workers behaved on the picket line because the company said striking workers were blocking the plant's entrances and intimidating replacement workers. Union officials denied any improper behavior during the strike and said police never cited workers for causing problems.

But the workers have been holding out for higher wages because they believe the ongoing worker shortages across the country give them an advantage during the negotiations. Workers at the cereal plants have said they believed they deserve significant raises because they routinely work more than 80 hours a week, and they kept the plants running throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this year, about 600 food workers also went on strike at a Frito-Lay plant in Topeka, Kansas, and 1,000 others walked off the job at five Nabisco plants across the U.S. At meatpacking plants across the country labor unions have been successfully negotiating significant raises for employees.

In another recent strike, over 10,000 Deere workers secured 10% raises and improved benefits but those gains came after the workers remained on strike for a month and rejected two offers from the company. The offer that Kellogg's workers rejected was the first one they have voted on since the strike began.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kelloggs, Strike Continued, Offer Rejection
Dan Osborn, president of the local Omaha union, said the latest contract offer from Kellogg's wouldn't have allowed enough workers to move up to the higher pay level in the company's two-tiered wage system, making some newer workers potentially wait as long as nine years. In this photo, Kellogg's Cereal plant workers demonstrate in front of the plant on October 7, 2021 in Battle Creek, Michigan. Ray Del Rio/Getty Images