BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was in Battle Creek Friday afternoon to show support for striking Kellogg’s workers.
Sanders attended a rally with the striking workers at the Battle Creek Farmers Market.
The senator’s visit comes ahead of Sunday’s vote when members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union will vote on the new tentative agreement with Kellogg’s. The votes will be counted on Tuesday.
If approved, the deal would pave the for 1,400 employees to return to work on Dec. 27. The workers have been on strike since Oct. 5.
The senator commended the strikers for being what he believes is an inspiration to others nationwide in standing their ground.
“You have had the incredible courage right here to take on corporate greed,” Sanders said.
Sanders joined union leaders, including BCTGM Local 3G President Trevor Bidelman, in voicing their frustration against Kellogg’s at the rally, calling on the company to stop the exploitation of middle-class workers.
“What they believe is sustainable is my brothers and sisters working themselves to death,” Bidelman said. “Everyone is sick and tired of working every single waking moment of their life. We literally have to do this just to have somewhat of what is referred to as a comfortable living.”
“You’re looking at people who’ve worked 50 … 60 days in a row. I talked to somebody (who worked) 120 days in a row. Those, as I understand it, weren’t even 8 hour days. (They were) 12 hour days, 16 hour days. That is insane,” Sanders said. “You don’t treat people who gave their lives to your company by threatening them with permanent replacements.”
Sanders called on Kellogg’s to give their employees a decent income and not have them overworked.
“When people … their families make that kind of sacrifice, you don’t treat those workers with disrespect and contempt,” Sanders said.
Dave Haggerty and Marty Wolf, who share a combined total of 25 years of working for Kellogg’s, says they are exhausted for how much they work with little slack in their schedules.
Wolf says casuals are not allowed to be late or miss one day of work for 18 months. He claims one coworker was fired because of a flat tire.
“If they want your life, they’re going to have to pay for it. It’s plain and simple,” Wolf said. “If they don’t want to pay for it, burn it to the ground.”
“I’m hoping that the walls crash down on (the company) because of this,” Hagerty added. “They’re going to have to do something because … the president’s even saying stuff about this.”
Sanders also read a letter from President Joe Biden, whose main message to the workers is “to keep the faith in solidarity.”
The letter further emphasized the president’s support for collective bargaining and workers’ rights.
Jerry Gibbons was also in the crowd welcoming the senator from Vermont to West Michigan. He worked for Kellogg’s for 29 years before retiring.
Gibbons said extra shifts and forced overtime were the norm during his tenure. He added he will never forget the day when his supervisor asked him how he felt after working 57 consecutive days.
“I remember the blood just dropping because all of a sudden I realize ‘My God, I’ve been here this long and I haven’t had a day off, and I’m miserable mentally, spiritually, and everything else. You can’t get a day off?’” Gibbons reflected. “What’s your life worth when you’re forced to work every day of your life?”
Gibbons said he missed a lot of his life working on the factory floor, including when his children had after-school activities. He believes Kellogg’s should not force their workers into such schedules.
“If you love America, you love the workers. And if you love American workers, you don’t ship their jobs top desperate workers in Mexico and pay them 90 cents an hour,” Sanders said.
—News 8’s Michael Oszust contributed to this report.