Kellogg’s fires 1,400 striking employees after bitter battle over benefits

The Kellogg Company, the largest producer of breakfast cereals in the United States, is to “permanently replace” 1,400 workers who have been on strike since early October.

The decision comes after months of bitter battle between the company and the union. The parties reached a preliminary agreement last week, in which employees would receive an annual wage increase of 3 percent. That would apply for five years, but it was rejected by “an overwhelming majority of staff,” unions said. “The members have spoken. The strike continues.”

The workers want more pay increases because they work more than 80 hours a week and they kept the factories running during the pandemic. They demand better retirement benefits and want management to abandon plans for a two-tier compensation system that would give new workers to the factories less pay and benefits than those who have worked there longer.

Treated worse than machines

“Just a year ago, we were called heroes because we worked through the pandemic, seven days a week, 16 hours a day,” said union leader Trevor Bidelman, whose family has worked for Kellogg’s for four generations. “Now we are apparently not heroes anymore.”

Factory workers often work seven days a week and are not allowed to take time off. “We don’t have a weekend, sometimes we work 100 to 130 days in a row,” says Bidelman. “The machines here run for 28 days and then are shut down for three days to be cleaned. So they treat us worse than their machines.”

Heavy, poorly paid factory jobs

Hundreds of grain mill workers in Michigan, Lancaster, Memphis and Battle Creek, among others, have now been forced to leave. “This is not what we were aiming for, but we need to take steps now to ensure continuity,” said Chris Hood, CEO of Kellogg North America. “We owe it to our customers to continue to supply the grains they know and love.”

Kellogg’s kept the factories running for the past two months by putting managers and temporary staff on the assembly line. The multinational also ordered breakfast cereals from factories abroad to serve the American market.

According to labor market experts, it will be a challenge for Kellogg’s to find replacements for the 1,400 laid-off employees. The labor market in America is tight, there are a record number of vacancies and personnel is difficult to find. In addition, heavy, poorly paid factory jobs with irregular working hours are not very popular.

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