Kellogg workers extend strike by rejecting contract proposal

About 1,400 strikers at four Kellogg grain factories in the United States have rejected a tentative agreement on a five-year contract negotiated by their union, the company said on Tuesday.

The International Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Millers Union, which represents the workers, did not reveal the vote totals but said in a report that its members had “voted overwhelmingly” against the agreement.

The vote was the last of several recent in which workers have expressed dissatisfaction with the terms negotiated by their unions. Workers at Deere & Company rejected two tentative agreements before approving a third last month, and some workers feared their union was not being aggressive enough towards the company.

Kellogg’s rejection is “similar to what we saw earlier at Deere,” said Johnnie Kallas, a PhD. student in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University and project director of its Follow-up of union action. “With the inflation we are experiencing now and the fact that we are in a relatively tight labor market, workers feel emboldened. “

The votes are in line with other signs of union activism. Workers across the economy have become more assertive in recent months, engaging in strikes and informal actions and taking part in new organizing efforts.

Kellogg’s strike began on October 5 and has largely revolved around the company’s two-tier pay structure agreed to in 2015, in which new hires earn lower wages and receive less generous benefits than veteran workers. . Under the previous contract, the lower tier could include up to 30 percent of workers.

According to a summary provided by the company, the new agreement would have immediately upgraded all employees four years or older at Kellogg to veteran level. A lower-level group of employees, equivalent to 3 percent of a factory’s workforce, would upgrade to veteran level each year of the contract.

“We are disappointed that the agreement in principle for a framework contract on our four US grain plants has not been ratified by employees,” Kellogg said in a statement.

The company said no further bargaining sessions were scheduled and that it would “hire permanent replacement employees for positions vacated by striking workers.”

Permanent replacement of striking workers over economic issues like wages and benefits is legal, although Democrats seek to ban the practice in the Law on the Protection of Trade Union Rights, or PRO Law. The House passed the bill in March, but it faces long chances in the Senate.

Under the rejected deal, veteran workers, who Kellogg says earn about $ 35 an hour on average, would have received a 3% pay rise in the first year and cost-of-living adjustments in subsequent years. . New hires earn nearly $ 22 an hour, according to the company.

The company had proposed removing the cap on the percentage of lower-level workers and implementing a six-year progression to veteran status. But some employees and union officials saw it as a way to increase the number of lower-level workers overall. They feared this would put downward pressure on veterans’ wages if those at the bottom end of the spectrum became the majority.

“As soon as the lower level is 50 plus one, they have the right to vote on future contracts and my salary can go down,” said Dan Osborn, president of a local union of Kellogg workers in Omaha, in a little interview. long after the strike began.

Mr Osborn said at the time that veteran workers at his factory were making around $ 30 an hour and they felt particularly frustrated with the company’s offer after working long hours, often on weekends. -end, during the pandemic. They thought they were leveraging the business because of a general labor shortage and because some of their skills are specialized.

Mr Osborn said he had repaired and maintained machines at Kellogg for over 15 years, but added: “There are days, if not weeks, when I can’t even get things done.

In addition to Mr. Osborn’s factory, Kellogg workers are on strike at factories in Battle Creek, Michigan; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Memphis.

The company stated in A declaration at the end of November that it was able to “operate our factories efficiently with hourly and salaried workers, third-party resources and temporary replacements”, and indicated that it was hiring permanent replacement workers.

The strike is part of an increase in social unrest this fall, including the strike of 10,000 Deere workers and one more 2,000 hospital employees in New York, each of which lasted over a month.

Workers have sometimes directed their frustration to union leaders, whom they criticize for not negotiating aggressively enough. Last month, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which has nearly 1.4 million members, elected a president who challenged the candidate backed by outgoing union president James P. Hoffa on the grounds that the union had been too willing to accept concessions under Mr. Hoffa’s tenure. direction.

More than half of the roughly 420 workers on strike at a Heaven Hill spirits bottling plant near Louisville, Ky., Voted in late October to reject a tentative deal between their union and the company, but the strike by six weeks could only be extended with at least two thirds of opposition under union rules.

“I think there is a lot of anger,” Cornell’s Mr Kallas said. “It’s a unique moment. But it remains to be seen what kinds of gains this will translate into in the long run. “

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