FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Kellogg’s Union-Busting Lock Out

by STEVE PAYNE

“I went to the ‘Gold Palace,’ Kellogg headquarters, last year,” said Trence Jackson, an officer of BCTGM Local 252G. “They had a nice display in their lobby on what they do for African Americans. They also put African Americans, like Gabby [Douglas], on their cereal boxes each February.”

But this February Jackson and his co-workers at the Memphis Kellogg cereal plant face the prospect of spending Black History Month on the picket line. Three months into a lockout, the company has yet to return to the bargaining table.

During local contract negotiations in October 2013, Kellogg demanded the right to hire more part-time and casual employees, at lower pay rates. When workers voted the proposal down, Kellogg locked them out.

Scabs hired through an Ohio union-busting firm now produce Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops.

About 60 percent of the Kellogg workers are black, matching the demographics of Memphis. But only 54 percent of black men in Memphis have jobs. The good-paying jobs at the Kellogg plant are a rarity.

Memphis labor is best known for the sanitation strike of 1968, which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had come to town to support when he was assassinated. The civil rights community and black church leaders helped lead that strike, famous for its “I Am a Man” slogan, to victory.

Today, the civil rights community is again supporting Memphis workers. The NAACP is discussing a potential boycott of popular Kellogg brands, and local Southern Christian Leadership Conference leaders have sent two letters to CEO John Byrant. The lockout will be an issue at today’s Martin Luther King Day rally.

When asked how today’s lockout relates to the 1968 strike, Kevin Bradshaw, president of Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 252G, said, “It’s a slap in the face, for everything that’s happened in our city.”

Lockout Improper?

BCTGM has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) contending that Kellogg violated the national contract by attempting to impose new work conditions on the Memphis facility during local negotiations, when these should be properly addressed by national talks.

Workers maintain a 24/7 symbolic picket line at the factory entrance on busy Airport Boulevard. Six to 10 workers hold signs, each taking two shifts a week. Buses filled with scabs enter at a separate entrance, not visible from the picket line.

BCTGM has leafleted at non-union Kellogg facilities around the country, including newly acquired Pringles factories.

On November 8 a 300-person community rally at the plant demonstrated the broad local support for workers, and 8,500 people have signed an online petition.

BCTGM organized a second, smaller rally on January 11. A hundred community members and workers listened to speakers including several elected officials. Most speakers had some connection with the civil rights movement.

From conversations on the picket line, it’s clear workers are holding out hope the NLRB will get them back to work. But Bradshaw says a positive ruling will not end the lockout. At best, it will give the union leverage.

Making Kellogg Union-Free

Bradshaw says the lockout is part of a plan to make Kellogg union-free. “If we win in Memphis, they have to wait until the master contract expires to make these changes,” he said. “If we lose in Memphis, it’s going everywhere.

“Other companies are going to see it. General Mills has already called our international president and said, ‘What are you doing about Kellogg?’ He’s thinking if Kellogg can do it, they can, too.”

The Memphis lockout is only the latest step in a series of increasingly hostile anti-union moves by Kellogg globally. Management recently announced that two union plants in Australia and Canada will close this year, and production will move to non-union facilities.

Kellogg also recently shifted 58 million pounds per year of cereal production from Memphis to Mexico. Bradshaw said workers in Mexico are required to live in a housing compound near the factory and are bused to work. Some have been kidnapped by drug cartels.

In 1996, more than 800 people worked at the Memphis facility. Now it stands just above 200. Much of the work is automated.

The First Domino

In 1968 Memphis sanitation workers walked off the job to protest unsafe working conditions. This January 7, 90 percent spontaneously walked off the job again, refusing to work in record cold weather. Temperatures reached 10 degrees, abnormally cold for the Delta region.

“The wind is out here blowing, and you on the back of a truck picking up garbage,” said AFSCME union leader Gail Tyree. “That’s more important than the lives of these people? I am appalled.”

BCTGM has attempted to maintain solidarity among Kellogg factories. In December members of the Omaha and Battle Creek, Michigan, locals delivered gift cards to children of locked-out workers. Other locals have assessed voluntary dues deductions to support Memphis workers.

All four Kellogg facilities in the United States are covered by a master contract. Each plant also negotiates a local contract. The contract at the Omaha factory expires in May.

Workers on the picket line believe Kellogg is planning to break their union. “They’re going to pit each plant against each other. We’re the first domino in a chain,” said Marvin Rush.

On February 11, 1968—two years before the first observance of Black History Month—Memphis sanitation workers walked off their jobs to stand up for their dignity. They marched through the city streets, facing down police dogs and Mace.

As that date approaches in 2014, Kellogg workers are marching down the same streets, to defend the same principles.

At the January 11 rally, Gail Tyree from the sanitation workers local told the crowd, “We know that what they’re doin’ ain’t right. And I tell you some days I get up I feel like I’m still in the 1960s.”

Steve Payne was an organizer with the Service Employees in Minneapolis for eight years. He now lives in Memphis. He wrote this article for LaborNotes.

 

More articles by:
January 23, 2018
Carl Boggs
Doomsday Panic in Hawaii
Mark Ashwill
If I Were US Ambassador to Vietnam…
Jack Rasmus
US Government Shutdown: Democrats Blink…Again
Nick Pemberton
The Inherent Whiteness of “Our Revolution”
Leeann Hall
Trump’s Gift for the Unemployed: Kicking Them Off Health Care
Dean Baker
Lessons in Economics For the NYT’s Bret Stephens: Apple and Donald Trump’s Big Tax Cut
Mitchell Zimmerman
Law, Order and the Dreamers
Ken Hannaford-Ricardi
The Kids the World Forgot
Dave Lindorff
South Korea Slips Off the US Leash
Ali Mohsin
Extrajudicial Murder of Pashtun Exposes State Brutality in Pakistan
Jessicah Pierre
Oprah is No Savior
John Carroll Md
Keeping Haiti in Perspective
Amir Khafagy
Marching Into the Arms of the Democrats
January 22, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
It’s Time to Call Economic Sanctions What They Are: War Crimes
Jim Kavanagh
Behind the Money Curtain: A Left Take on Taxes, Spending and Modern Monetary Theory
Sheldon Richman
Trump Versus the World
Mark Schuller
One Year On, Reflecting and Refining Tactics to Take Our Country Back
Winslow Wheeler
Just What Earmark “Moratorium” are They Talking About?
W. T. Whitney
José Martí, Soul of the Cuban Revolution
Uri Avnery
May Your Home Be Destroyed          
Wim Laven
Year One Report Card: Donald Trump Failing
Jill Richardson
There Are No Shithole Countries
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
Are the Supremes About to Give Trump a Second Term?
Laura Finley
After #MeToo and #TimesUp
Howard Lisnoff
Impressions From the Women’s March
Andy Thayer
HuffPost: “We Really LOVED Your Contributions, Now FUCK OFF!”
Weekend Edition
January 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Dr. King’s Long Assassination
David Roediger
A House is Not a Hole: (Not) Caring about What Trump Says
George Burchett
How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation
Michael Hudson – Charles Goodhart
Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?
Marshall Auerback – Franklin C. Spinney
Boss Tweet’s Generals Already Run the Show
Andrew Levine
Remember, Democrats are Awful Too
James Bovard
Why Ruby Ridge Still Matters
Wilfred Burchett
The Bug Offensive
Brian Cloughley
Now Trump Menaces Pakistan
Ron Jacobs
Whiteness and Working Folks
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Keeper of Crazy Beats: Charlie Haden and Music as a Force of Liberation
Robert Fantina
Palestine and Israeli Recognition
Jan Oberg
The New US Syria “Strategy”, a Recipe For Continued Disaster
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Return of the Repressed
Mel Gurtov
Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia
Robert Fisk
The Next Kurdish War Looms on the Horizon
Lawrence Davidson
Contextualizing Sexual Harassment
Jeff Berg
Approaching Day Zero
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail