Kellogg’s Workers Speak from the Picket Lines

Photo: Kellogg’s workers on the picket line in Memphis (Source: Tribune)

By Sarah Ahmed

Since October 5, more than 1,400 Kellogg’s workers with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union (BCTGM) have been on strike after a year of failed contract negotiations. They are protesting for better pay and benefits, and the removal of the two-tier system instituted in 2015. The strike covers plants in Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Michigan. This past Sunday, Tribune spoke with several striking workers at the picket line in Memphis, Tennessee about their struggles with long hours and their fight to end the two-tier employee system.

With the two-tier system, new employees are hired as ‘transitional’ employees with a starting pay of $19.50 per hour, compared with the $33 per hour that a ‘top-tier’ worker receives. With the 2015 contract, transitional employees could only make up 30% of the workforce, but Kellogg’s is seeking to remove this cap. One operations technician told Tribune that he was a transitional employee for nearly five years, and that the transitional tier is just a way for Kellogg’s to keep new employees at lower pay and worse benefits. “They’re cutting us in half and getting all the money.”

The workers are tight-knit and see through the company’s attempts to divide them through the two-tier system. The same worker told Tribune, “At the end of the day we’re a family and we just want to make sure the next person beside us is living comfortable and feeling comfortable when they come to work.”

A warehouse worker told Tribune that Kellogg’s will frequently force workers to work 12-hour shifts. “[Kellogg’s] says it’s voluntary; that’s just not true. I’ve gotten to 15 [days in a row]. We pretty much live at Kellogg’s.”

Workers across both tiers said that the long hours made it difficult to raise a family. One worker of 15 years told Tribune that he has worked 90 days in a row without a single day off. At times, he was only able to see his family for an hour a day because of the heavy workload. “In four years of high school I only saw three of my daughter’s games because of this job.”

A pellet worker highlighted Kellogg’s parasitic relationship with workers, both in the United States and Mexico, saying, “That’s their main game, to exploit this individual. If that doesn’t work, I’ll go to this individual to exploit them. They’re playing chess, while we’re just trying to make a living. It’s not about getting ahead [for us], it’s about survival.”

The same worker pointed out that Kellogg’s made a huge profit during the economic depression, but refuses to share these profits with the workers: “They made money hand over fist during the pandemic. […] The top 25 people in corporate individually make more than all the grain millers combined. You have one person that made more than 1,500 people.”

According to Kellogg’s 2020 Annual Report, Kellogg’s made a net income of $1.25 billion in 2020, compared with a net income of $0.96 billion the previous year, largely due to a 9% increase in their sales of cereals and frozen foods.

The worker spoke to the strength of workers in the broader struggle and large number of ongoing strikes, saying, “I think it shows that employees are starting to get fed up with the greed. Why are you living in a New York townhouse while I’m struggling to buy groceries, while you got two, three houses? People are getting fed up. I don’t blame them. They need us more than we need them. We make the produce that they make their millions off of, and I think people are starting to realize that.”

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