Roughly 1,400 workers who make cereal for Kellogg’s have voted to turn down a tentative agreement reached between the company and their union, opting to stay out on strike for a better deal.
The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union said Tuesday that members had “overwhelmingly” rejected the potential contract that would have ended the two-month work stoppage at plants in Battle Creek, Michigan; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Omaha, Nebraska; and Memphis, Tennessee.
“The members have spoken. The strike continues,” Anthony Shelton, BCTGM’s president, said in a statement. “The International Union will continue to provide full support to our striking Kellogg’s members.”
One of the biggest sticking points in negotiations has been Kellogg’s two-tier system that offers newer, “transitional” employees less pay and fewer benefits than “legacy” workers. The lower tier is currently capped at 30% of a plant’s head count, but Kellogg’s initially proposed lifting that cap to expand the lower tier and save on labor costs.
The proposal that workers just voted down would have immediately moved current transitional employees into legacy pay and benefits if they had four years on the job. It also would have moved other transitional workers into legacy positions at the rate of 3% of the plant’s headcount each year of the contract. Under the current system, transitional workers can only move into legacy compensation when a legacy worker leaves.
But Dan Osborn, a plant mechanic and president of the local in Omaha, said he and many other workers had “mixed feelings” about the proposal, especially when it comes to the two-tier system. He estimated that only around 15 transitional workers at his plant would immediately convert into legacy workers because so few of them had been around for four years, though he said the number might be greater at other facilities.
“It could definitely be stronger in some areas, especially when it comes to the two-tier,” Osborn said ahead of the vote count.
The pay rates vary by position, but workers say legacy employees often earn around $30 per hour, while transitional workers earn substantially less. Under the latest offer, new hires would start out at $22.76, according to a proposal outline from Kellogg’s. Transitional roles also come with less attractive retirement and health benefits.
Kellogg’s said in a statement that it was “disappointed” workers had rejected the latest offer: “It appears the union created unrealistic expectations for our employees.”
The company added: “The prolonged work stoppage has left us no choice but to hire permanent replacement employees in positions vacated by striking workers. These are great jobs and posting for permanent positions helps us find qualified people to fill them.”
Workers in contract fights around the country have been revolting against two-tier systems, weary of the way they divide employees and weaken their unions. Such systems can sow acrimony between groups of workers since they’re treated differently, undermining the union’s strength.
Kevin Bradshaw, a 20-year veteran at the Memphis Kellogg’s plant who also serves as his local union’s president, told HuffPost in October that workers at his plant weren’t interested in being partitioned.
“You’re driving the workforce into the ground by separating people and not treating them equally,” he said. “Same job, less money. Who would want to work that way?”