In 1970, Kelloggs Battle Creek, Michigan, plant employed 3,455 members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) Union. By 1990, the number had dropped to 2,150. Today, only 313 BCTGM members work in the same plant.
Some of this may be due to increased efficiency at Kelloggs U.S. plants. But the loss of jobs coincides with the corporate food behemoth establishing manufacturing capabilities throughout Latin America, Eastern Europe, India, and elsewhere. Local 3-G president Trevor Bidelman told me over the phone, Its clear, their long-term strategy is about moving the company outside of the U.S.
On Tuesday, December 21, BCTGMs 11-week strike against Kellogg came to an end, when 1,400 workers across its four U.S. plants ratified a new five-year agreement. According to BCTGM, the new agreement includes improved cost-of-living adjustments, a clear path to regular full-time employment, no permanent two-tier system, and a guarantee that no U.S. plants will shut down through October 2026.
But many workers from the Battle Creek plant were disappointed with the contracts ratification, and sources tell the Prospect that an overwhelming majority of the plants workers voted against it. That was counteracted by approval among other Kellogg plant workers.
The original purpose of the strike was about securing the unions future by ending the two-tier contract system that separates legacy workers (making around $33 an hour with fully covered health insurance) from lower-paid transitional workers (making as little as $19 an hour and paying for health insurance). At the very least, they sought a concrete path for transitional employees to enter legacy status. Battle Creek workers say that this was not accomplished in the new contract.
They will never be anything more than transitionals, Harry Gibson mourned over the phone, Hes worked at the Battle Creek plant since 2010. Instead, Gibson and others argue, the new five-year contract potentially signs away the unions future in exchange for short-term gains.
We didnt get what we set out to do. Were not happy.
Local 3-Gs Bidelman said the companys latest threats of replacing all 1,400 striking workers with permanent replacements likely flipped strikers in the other U.S. plants. According to Bidelman, workers in Battle Creek are used to Kelloggs strong-arm tactics. In 1999, the company closed a historic second plant in Battle Creek, a loss of 550 jobs. [Other plant workers] probably have a lot more trust in the company than we do, Bidelman said. Weve seen how dirty the company can be.
Bidelman said that, while he does not see the ratified deal as worse than the previous one offered by the company on December 1, the new agreement leaves too many holes open for manipulation. Gibson remarked that whatever improved pay scale Kellogg offered doesnt matter, because without an ensured mechanism for transitional employees to move up, they will never have the pay or benefits generations before them received.
The new agreement reverses a past provision where the company capped transitional employees to 30 percent of its workforce. Now there is no limit on the percentage of transitionals, leaving Kellogg to potentially create an entirely transitional workforce in its U.S. plants, once all legacy employees retire. This contract is for our future, a worker told me before the contracts ratification over the weekend.
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As I reported in the Prospect, the ratified contract replaces the two-tier system with a four-tier one, by phasing out legacy employees as they retire, creating a new classification of regular full-time for transitionals who move up, and provisionals, of which there are none in Battle Creek.
Sources told me that more than 90 percent of Local 3-G voted no in Battle Creek, but Bidelman dismissed that figure as speculation. He told me that votes are counted all together, meaning there would be no way to figure out specific plant vote totals. Still, he continued, We didnt get what we set out to do. Were not happy.
Despite the results, Bidelman remarked that the support from across the country and the community in Battle Creek was an amazing feat in itself. On the touted gains from the ratified contract, Harry Gibson said, I would trade these in a heartbeat so that transitionals had a future as legacy employees.