Striking Kellogg union workers and their supporters rally across from the Kellogg headquarters in Battle Creek, Oct. 27, 2021 | Laina G. Stebbins
Updated 12/2/2021, 10:21 p.m., with comments from state Sen. Sean McCann.
Eight weeks of striking against a two-tier pay system may culminate in a weekend agreement between 1,400 union workers and cereal giant Kellogg, as the parties announced Thursday morning a tentative deal has been reached.
The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) employees at four cereal plants around the country, including 325 workers in Battle Creek, have been on strike since midnight on Oct. 5 for better wages, better hours and the end of a two-tier pay scale.
According to newly released details of the tentative deal, workers would secure 3% raises, enhanced benefits for all employees and cost of living adjustments along with an “accelerated” path for new workers to become part of the “legacy” tier.
BCTGM International President Anthony Shelton said in a statement Thursday that the parties came to a tentative agreement late Wednesday evening. Union members will vote on the agreement on Sunday.
“I want to thank and commend all of the members of the bargaining committee for their many, many hours of extremely hard work to reach this tentative agreement. As always in our union, the members will have the final say on the contract,” Shelton said.
Veronica Martinez, a spokesperson for the Michigan AFL-CIO, said the state federation of labor “is pleased that Kellogg Corporate has finally brought a proposal to the negotiating table that met BCTGM’s standards.” The AFL-CIO is the state federation of labor that represents about one million active and retired members of 59 unions in Michigan.
“Going on strike is never an easy decision, especially so close to the holidays,” Martinez said. “We are so proud of the BCTGM Local 3G members who walked the picket line in the rain and snow and proved their dedication to fighting for a fair contract.”
Negotiations had previously been held up several times as Kellogg pushed back against the union for “unrealistic demands,” while the union slammed Kellogg for enforcing wage inequality and chaotic work hours at their four plants in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Tennessee.
The latest effort to reach a deal before this week had ended with Kellogg’s “last best final offer” expiring on Nov. 11 without a vote from BCTGM workers. The company simultaneously announced that it was seeking permanent hires to replace striking workers.
Talks had then stalled until the parties agreed to negotiate again on Tuesday and Wednesday.
According to a copy of the tentative agreement’s highlights provided by Kellogg, older “legacy” employees along with newer, “transitional” workers would both see no changes in their current health care and would receive new vision benefits. Transitional employees would also receive new dental benefits along with no increase in next year’s contribution rates.
State Rep. Jim Haadsma (D-Battle Creek) has supported Kellogg workers throughout the strike and said in a Thursday interview that the potential agreement “demonstrates that collective bargaining still works.”
“Hopefully, this translates to employees getting back to work soon,” Haadsma added.
The Battle Creek lawmaker noted that this tentative victory for Kellogg employees is emblematic of a “laborers’ market” and could influence contract negotiations throughout the state and country.
“Organized labor has the conditions to exert more concessions in bargaining negotiations,” Haadsma said. “Other union locals are going to be more intrepid about negotiations.”
As thousands of workers strike across the United States, state Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) believes the Kellogg employees’ action furthers the conversation around workers’ rights and moves the state and country towards treating employees with the dignity they deserve.
“I hope this is part of a reawakening of appreciation for people who do hard jobs for us,” McCann said. “People having a newfound respect for people who make our coffee and our cereal and our fast food is hopefully upon us.”
The idea of respecting essential workers, particularly during a pandemic in which they had to work in person, was one aired time and again by workers as McCann visited with them in recent months.
“One of the things I heard from the striking workers many times as I visited with them was how jilted they felt to remain on through the pandemic as essential workers to make sure people were fed and then to be treated by the company as sort of second class citizens as the pandemic waned,” McCann said. “I hope this agreement acknowledges the importance of these folks and how much value they add.”
State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), who also backed the Kellogg employees during the strike, said she is “so proud of the workers and the union for standing so strong.”
“I think this tentative deal is the result of a lot of fierce organizing, and obviously those that have been on strike for a couple months here have been fighting for what workers deserve which is fair pay, fair benefits, a good workplace, and an end to the two-tier system,” Chang said.
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