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Bernie’s Battle Creek: US Senator Heads to Michigan to Take on Kellogg’s ‘Greed’

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The democratic socialist senator will rally with striking workers to protest Kellogg’s plan to replace them for rejecting a five-year tentative agreement.

Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, an independent US senator from Vermont since 2007, will rally with striking Kellogg’s workers outside the breakfast cereals manufacturer’s plant in the city of Battle Creek, Michigan, on Friday, after the company announced last week that it would replace them for rejecting a five-year tentative agreement.

US President Joe Biden said last week that he was “deeply troubled” by Kellogg’s decision to replace the workers. “Permanently replacing striking workers is an existential attack on the union and its members’ jobs and livelihoods,” he said. “Collective bargaining is an essential tool to protect the rights of workers that should be free from threats and intimidation from employers.”

In a statement, Sanders’ office said that the senator would join some of Kellogg’s striking employees adding that the company—which reported a 3.4% increase in operating profit at more than $1.4 billion in November over the last year—is “the new poster child of corporate greed”.

Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats in the House and the Senate and created a leftward shift in the Democratic Party since his 2016 presidential run, tweeted on Tuesday: “Kellogg’s workers made the company BILLIONS during a pandemic by working 12-hour shifts (sic), some for more than 100 days in a row. But Kellogg’s is now choosing corporate greed over the workers they once called ‘heroes.’ On Friday, I’m going to Michigan to stand with the workers.”

Around 1,400 Kellogg’s workers at four Kellogg’s plants—in Michigan, Omaha (Nebraska), Lancaster (Pennsylvania) and Memphis (Tennessee) have rejected the tentative agreement for a new five-year contract.

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, which represents the workers, had said in a statement that its members had “overwhelmingly voted” against the agreement. “The members have spoken. The strike continues,” the union said on Tuesday, according to NBC. “The International Union will continue to provide full support to our striking Kellogg’s members.”

The strike, which began on October 5, is primarily against Kellogg’s 2015 two-tier compensation structure in which newer employees earn lower wages and receive less generous benefits than veteran workers, The New York Times (NYT) reported.

The new agreement proposed immediately moving all employees with four or more years into the veteran tier. A group of lower-tier employees, equivalent to 3% of a plant’s headcount would have moved into the veteran tier in each year of the contract.

The workers argue that the two-tier system aims to undercut their union with less pay and fewer benefits for new employees, who earns around $22 per hours. Kellogg’s had offered a 3% wage increase in the first year and cost-of-living adjustments in subsequent years to veteran workers, who make about $35 an hour on average.

The striking employees saw the company’s earlier proposal of eliminating the cap on the percentage of lower-tier workers and setting up a six-year progression to the veteran wage tier as an attempt to reduce the veterans into a minority.

Subsequently, Kellogg’s claimed that it was left with no choice but to permanently replace the striking workers with new hires. “After 19 negotiation sessions in 2021 and still no deal reached…,” Chris Hood, president, Kellogg North America, said, “the prolonged work stoppage has left us no choice but to continue executing the next phase of our contingency plan, including hiring replacement employees in positions vacated by striking workers.”
“As soon as the lower tier has 50 plus one, they have voting power on future contracts and my wage can go down,” Dan Osborn, president of a Kellogg’s workers local in Omaha, told NYT in an interview shortly after the strike began early December.

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