Kellogg has announced that it is planning to permanently replace 1,400 workers who have been striking since October, after failing to offer a satisfactory deal to the union.
Earlier this week, workers rejected a five-year deal that offered 3 percent raises and cost of living adjustments further along in the contract. The deal failed to remedy problems created by the two-tiered wage system that allows the company to offer less pay and worse benefits to newer hires, a tier that currently applies to about 30 percent of the cereal plants’ employees.
“The members have spoken. The strike continues,” said Anthony Shelton, President of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union. “The International Union will continue to provide full support to our striking Kellogg’s members.”
Workers have been demanding higher raises, saying that they often work more than 80 hours a week. According to union representatives, the company’s latest offer wouldn’t let new workers reach a higher, legacy pay level for as long as nine years. The offer also would have limited the proportion of plant workers who would be eligible for pay raises to only 3 percent.
Kellogg has refused to comply with workers’ demands for over a year now — and workers at four plants in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Tennessee have been striking since October 5. Labor advocates have been calling for a boycott of the company’s products while workers are striking, calls that have been amplified in light of Kellogg’s recent announcement. People on the “antiwork” subreddit have also been attempting to sabotage their hiring system so that potential replacement workers’ applications can’t get through.
Sending in permanent replacement workers to disrupt a strike is potentially illegal; companies aren’t allowed to replace workers who are protesting unfair labor practices and can only replace so-called economic strikers if there is a “legitimate and substantial business justification” for doing so, as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo recently pointed out.
However, there is no requirement for employers to prove that their justification for replacing the workers is legitimate, meaning that companies can do so essentially without recourse. Even when companies are found to be violating labor laws, punishments are often little more than a slap on the wrist.
Permanently replacing workers who are striking is also generally regarded as an act of repression against workers who are exercising their right to protest for better working conditions. Some labor relations experts have cast doubt on whether or not the company will even be able to find enough workers willing to cross the picket line.
“By voting ‘no,’ the workers are making a strong statement that they are not satisfied by the agreement, but they are also signaling they believe they have the leverage that’s needed to win more,” Rutgers labor professor Todd Vachon told CBS.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) criticized the company for the move on Wednesday. “When Kellogg’s employees worked 7 days a week during the pandemic to feed America they were called ‘heroes,’” Sanders wrote. “Today, despite big profits, the company is trying to break their strike by bringing in permanent replacements and sending 275 jobs to Mexico. Let’s stand with the workers.”
Sanders is among a number of Democratic and progressive lawmakers who are trying to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, legislation that would strengthen labor laws, make it easier to form a union, and explicitly outlaw permanently replacing striking workers. Advocates say that by making replacing workers illegal, the PRO Act would help to restore workers’ right to strike.