Biden Rips Kellogg’s For Trying To Hire Permanent Replacements For Strikers

The president called the move by Kellogg's "an existential attack on the union and its members."

President Joe Biden condemned cereal maker Kellogg’s for its intention to hire permanent replacements for striking workers on Friday, saying he was “deeply troubled” by the news.

The statement from the White House amounted to a rare presidential rebuke of a private employer in the midst of a labor dispute. Kellogg’s workers with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union have been on strike for two months, unable to reach an agreement on a new contract.

Workers overwhelmingly rejected the latest tentative agreement brokered between Kellogg’s and their union earlier this week, opting to prolong the strike for a more acceptable deal. Workers said the company’s offer would reinforce a two-tier system in which newer employees are on a lower track for pay and benefits than veteran employees.

After workers shot down the contract offer, Kellogg’s said it planned to hire permanent replacement workers to fill their shoes. In general, it is legal in the U.S. for employers to permanently replace workers who are out on strike for economic reasons, under what’s known as the Mackay doctrine. The ability of employers to do so greatly diminishes the potential power of a strike.

Kellogg’s said Monday that it had “no choice” but to bring in permanent replacements.

Biden disagreed.

“Permanently replacing striking workers is an existential attack on the union and its members’ jobs and livelihoods,” he said. “I have long opposed permanent striker replacements and I strongly support legislation that would ban that practice.”

Kellogg's workers have been on strike for more than two months.
Kellogg's workers have been on strike for more than two months.
Lucas Jackson via Reuters

He urged the parties to work out their differences at the bargaining table: “Unions built the middle class of this country. My unyielding support for unions includes support for collective bargaining, and I will aggressively defend both.”

The strike at Kellogg’s involves 1,400 workers at plants in Battle Creek, Michigan; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Omaha, Nebraska; and Memphis, Tennessee.

Much of the fight revolves around the two-tier system that separates newer, “transitional” employees from “legacy” employees. The latter have a higher payscale and better health and retirement benefits than the former. The company has tried at different turns to expand the system or tweak it, while workers say they want to eliminate it.

“I have long opposed permanent striker replacements and I strongly support legislation that would ban that practice.”

- President Joe Biden

Such systems have a way of weakening unions over time, since they divide workers into different classes and sow resentment.

Trevor Bidelman, a fourth-generation Kellogg’s employee at the Battle Creek plant, told HuffPost in October that if the company got its way the job would no longer be worth taking.

“This fight is about the people coming up behind us,” he said. “We’ve got to say enough is enough.”