Kellogg’s announced it would begin permanently replacing the 1,400 workers who have been on strike for over two months to demand fair wages and better working conditions. The move comes after an overwhelming majority of Kellogg’s workers rejected a new five-year agreement they say falls short of their demands and sparked widespread public backlash, including from President Biden. “We are fighting for equal pay and equal benefits, regardless of what the company is putting out there. And trying to replace us is something that they’re using as a scare tactic,” says Kevin Bradshaw, a striking Kellogg’s worker and president of Local 252G in Memphis, Tennessee.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the 1,400 Kellogg’s workers who’ve remained on strike for over two months, demanding fair wages and better working conditions. Last week, Kellogg’s said it would start replacing striking workers with permanent hires, after a tentative five-year agreement with the company was rejected by an overwhelming majority of Kellogg’s cereal plant workers. The deal would have provided 3% raises.
Kellogg’s announcement drew backlash from across the country, with many demanding a boycott of Kellogg’s products in solidarity with striking workers. On Friday, President Biden tweeted, “I am deeply troubled by reports of Kellogg’s plans to permanently replace striking workers. Permanently replacing striking workers is an existential attack on the union and its members’ jobs and livelihoods. I strongly support legislation that would ban that practice,” President Biden said.
Workers at plants in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee have been on strike since October. They make all of the company’s most popular brands of cereal, including Froot Loops and Frosted Flakes.
For more, we go to Memphis, Tennessee, where we’re joined by Kevin Bradshaw, president of Local 252G, a striking Kellogg’s worker who’s worked for the company for 20 years.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Kevin. Can you talk about what’s at stake in this strike and the rejection of the contract that was up for vote?
KEVIN BRADSHAW: Yeah, what’s at stake — thank you for having me, first of all. What’s at stake is that 3% raise that the company is talking about and bragging about, that raise is not for everybody. I mean, we’re fighting for equal pay and equal benefits. If we were to agree to anything that the company has, certain employees — more employees still wouldn’t have the same opportunity as myself to be able to retire with the same pension, the same benefits, the same insurance, and in order to provide a livelihood for their families that we’re all able to provide. So we’re fighting for equal pay and equal benefits, regardless of what the company is putting out there. And trying to replace us is something that they’re using as a scare tactic, because we know they can’t hire enough people to replace us to do a skilled job. So, it’s another scare tactic from a greedy company.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Kevin Bradshaw, could you talk about the conditions at Kellogg? Some employees were working as much as 80 hours a week?
KEVIN BRADSHAW: Yeah, we’ve been working seven days, seven days a week, 12, 16 hours a day. And we’re asking the company, you know, if you’re going to work us the same, then you need to pay us the same. And we’re trying to get some relief on that, as far as different things inside our language that allow people to be off, like FMLA and stuff like that, where they’re not trying to circumvent FMLA and making you use up all your vacation and saying that you can’t be off with your family, you can’t take care of a loved one or yourself. So, there’s a lot of different things on the table that we’re trying to fight for as our working conditions. And also we’re fighting, you know, to keep jobs in America. We have job security. We have jobs going overseas, offshore to Mexico, because the company wants to pay more — I mean, pay less for more work. So, we’re fighting a very greedy company right now.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this threat of a possible replacement of the strikers, this was a big tactic back in the ’90s and early 2000s of employers, but it had —
KEVIN BRADSHAW: Right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — subsided somewhat. What about this issue of permanent replacement?
KEVIN BRADSHAW: Well, the company has been — you know, we got several different ULP charges against the company, because they have been bargaining in bad faith. They’ve been calling employees at home, trying to get them to get out of the union and come back across the picket line. I mean, they literally stated, “If you get out of the union, you can come back to work.” So, that’s one of the other scare tactics.
And then, just the announcement of the 1,400 jobs, it’s just another kick in the face to scare people, because they know it’s a hardship right now with no job, no income for over two months, and right around the holidays, when you want to spend time and money with your family and your loved ones. So, this is a very evil tactic. You know, evil doesn’t sleep.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance, Kevin Bradshaw, of the president of the United States condemning Kellogg’s, announcing that they might hire replacement workers — essentially, scabs.
KEVIN BRADSHAW: That is major, because when the POTUS stands up and stands with the working people in America, that makes this company millions after millions, on $380 million in nine months, it lets the whole nation know that the working people, the working class and unions built America. And that’s the very reason why we have a president that’s supporting labor, and we just want him to continue supporting labor, him and his whole administration. And that’s just the right thing to do.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the demographics of the workers at the striking plants, the racial breakdown?
KEVIN BRADSHAW: Well, the racial breakdown, we have a plant here — my plant here in Memphis, we are predominantly African American. Other plants are probably more diverse, with, I would say, maybe 30%, some a little bit more. We have Omaha. We have Pennsylvania. We’ve got Battle Creek, Michigan. So, it’s a lot of diversity among the plants. You know, some just have more demographic makeup than others. But Memphis is probably the most predominantly Black plant out of all four plants.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of what you’re asking of the public, because, obviously, Kellogg is a name known across America, and has been for decades, in terms of its products, what are you asking in terms of the public?
KEVIN BRADSHAW: We’re asking you not to buy Kellogg’s, not to buy Kellogg’s cereal. Look for the BCTGM logo on the side of the box. I mean, and we’re not making cereal right now, so any cereal you see, it shouldn’t have that logo on it, so those are scab cereals. And those are replacement workers who can’t do a job and don’t care about a job they’re doing, trying to supply a food chain to feed our American people. And we take pride in those jobs, when they’re union jobs.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin, as we begin to wrap up, the company, Kellogg’s, is saying, “We have made every effort to reach a fair agreement, including making six offers to the union throughout negotiations, all of which have included wage and benefits increases for every employee. It appears the union created unrealistic expectations for our employees.” Can you respond to that and also tell us what Kellogg’s makes? Talk about the products that many people have on their breakfast tables and through the day.
KEVIN BRADSHAW: Right. First of all, those things, things that they say they offer, you know, those are just their own opinion, because we’re just asking them to be fair. You know, the offer to ask for a company just to pay their people equal pay and equal benefits and insurance is not enough. I mean, it’s not a whole lot, when you’re making records after record-breaking profits ever year. So we’re just asking the company to be fair. They’re saying that they’re not realistic because I guess it’s unrealistic to treat people fair.
As far as the profits and everything that they’re making, I mean, and the products, I mean, we’re making — in Memphis, we make Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes, Apple Jacks, Froot Loops, Rice Krispies, Cinnamon Rice Krispies, Frosted Rice Krispies, Vanilla Rice Krispies. I mean, we make a plethora of all the cereal brands. We make a lot of different things as far as snacks are concerned, as far as your potato chips, your Pringles. I mean, the list goes on, as far as Pop-Tarts, Eggo waffles. I mean, and they own so many different other companies, I don’t even think we have time to go through the list of companies that they actually own. So, Kellogg’s is a very profitable company. In the hundred years they’ve been in business, they’ve never operated in the red. So, it’s a lot.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Kevin, for joining us. Kevin Bradshaw, president of the Local 252G in Memphis, Tennessee, striking Kellogg’s worker who’s worked for the company for 20 years. We’ll continue with this theme. Next up, we’ll look at the wave of union drives and labor organizing with labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein, author of State of the Union: A Century of American Labor. Stay with us.