BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — Wednesday was anything but quiet in downtown Battle Creek, with horns honking and chants roaring from Kellogg’s union workers on strike and their supporters.
At an afternoon rally, some, including South Central Michigan CLC President Jonathan Byrd, even used words from the company’s late founder.
“He said he’s ‘made a lot of money. I know where I’ll invest my money. I’ll invest it in people.’ I think it’s perfectly reasonable for Kellogg corporation to have 500 manufacturing jobs here in Battle Creek that pays good wages,” Byrd said.
Trevor Bidelman, who serves as president for the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union Local 3G, says the current standoff between them and the cereal maker primarily stems from disputes over the company’s two-tier system. It reportedly pays lower and offers fewer benefits to newer workers, categorized as “transitionals.”
“In 2015, when we went to the transitional piece, it was kind of meant for a 70-30 split. Then, as one person would retire, then one person would go into that spot. They want to eliminate that,” Bidelman said. “They also want to make it so that everybody coming forward would never get there.”
The other sticking point for the unions is job security. One month before the strike, Bidelman says company executives told workers at the Battle Creek plant that 174 jobs would be cut, with most of them outsourced to Mexico.
“We used to have 4,000 employees in our plant. We have 325 now,” Bidelman continued. “There’s 2,400 workers in the Linares, Mexico plant and they’re adding to it.”
In an Oct. 12 video addressing the strike, a Kellogg’s spokesperson says that is false, claiming they “did not propose moving any cereal volume or jobs outside the U.S.”
Peter Berg, a professor of employment relations at Michigan State University, explains shortages and supply chain bottlenecks coming out of the pandemic puts unions at an advantage for future collective bargaining agreement talks.
“In that situation, unions would exercise that power shift to make demands… from their point of view, either to gain ground in disputes that have been ongoing or to put new things on the table,” Berg continued.
Kellogg’s says they “look forward to getting back to the table,” as the company and union leaders continue negotiations as early as next Tuesday.