Memphis Kellogg workers return to work after nine-month lockout

Workers returned to work at Kellogg Company in Memphis after being locked out for nine months. A federal judge issued an injunction ending the lockout and requiring Kellogg to return to the bargaining table and bargain in good faith.

Judge Samuel H. Hays of the Western District of Tennessee issued the injunction after finding that “there is reasonable cause to believe that Kellogg has engaged in unfair labor practices.”

Attorneys for the National Labor Relations Board petitioned the court for the injunction after the NLRB’s General Counsel in March found that Kellogg had committed unfair labor practices.

“A federal judge agreed entirely and unequivocally with the union and the National Labor Relations Board,” said David B. Durkee, president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers (BCTGM), the locked out workers’ union.

The NLRB sought the injunction against Kellogg, the cereal manufacturer, after the five-member National Labor Relations Board headquartered in Washington DC unanimously authorized its attorney to seek the injunction.

According to the BCTGM, the board’s decision to seek an injunction is highly unusual. “Out of the tens of thousands of unfair labor practice charges filed in 2013, the Board sought pre-trial injunctions in only 40 cases,” said a media release from BCTGM.

Durkee in an earlier message to members said that the board’s action would not have been possible without a 2013 mass mobilization of union workers to end a Senate filibuster by Republicans to prevent the appointment of a new National Labor Relations Board.

The mobilization known as “Give Me Five” generated grassroots pressure on the Senate to change the rules that allowed a small minority of Senators to prevent the President from appointing new members to the NLRB.

The filibuster paralyzed the NLRB and prevented it from ruling on matters similar to the Kellogg lockout.

“What the labor movement accomplished in the spring of 2013 with our highly successful “Give Me Five” campaign and what that effort is yielding today for our members will stand as a lasting testament to the power of grassroots labor mobilization,” said Durkee.

The ordeal of the locked out workers began last year when Kellogg at its Memphis plant informed BCTGM Local 252G that the company wanted to open negotiations on a local Supplemental Agreement that was set to expire in October 2013.

The Memphis plant is one of four Kellogg plants whose workers belong to BCTGM. A Master Agreement covers wages, benefits, and other matters for all four plants. But each plant has a Supplemental Agreement that covers local issues.

When Kellogg came to the bargaining table, its proposals shocked BCTGM negotiators.

The company proposed that all new hires be classified as casual workers, who would be paid $6 an hour less than regular employees and have no health care or pension benefits. Subsequently, the company clarified its position to the union and said that if a regular employee was laid off and then rehired, the employee would be classified as a casual worker.

The company also wanted to eliminate a cap on the number of casual workers that could be employed at one time. The current agreement limits the number of casuals to 30 percent of the workforce.

The company wanted eventually to end regular employment and make all work at its Memphis plant casual work.

The union’s position was that redefining casual work was a matter to be negotiated when bargaining over the Master Agreement began.

The company responded that the union could either accept the company’s proposal or union members would be locked out.

When the union refused, the company locked out 225 workers on October 22, 2013.

As a result, Kellogg workers in Memphis went nine months without a paycheck or health insurance.

“Memphis families have endured foreclosure notices on their homes, repossession of vehicles, delayed medical procedures, depleted savings, children taken out of schools, children with disabilities whose parents are desperately trying to cobble together ongoing care by whatever means possible, the hounding of bill collectors, and the toll on family relationships that surpasses any monetary worth,” said Kevin Bradshaw, Local 252G president during the lockout.

Kellogg argued that its concession demands were necessary because the company needed to lower labor costs to stay competitive.

But while Kellogg was telling workers that it was facing hard times, it gave the company’s CEO John Bryant a 21 percent raise, boosting his yearly salary to $8 million.

Kellogg has reluctantly agreed to return the laid off workers to their jobs and to resume bargaining with the union.

However, the company could be facing more problems. One hundred twenty of the locked out workers have filed complaints with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaints say that Kellogg’s lockout of its mostly African-American workforce at the Memphis plant was racially motivated.

Bradshaw said that the union and the workers would pursue their claims against the company.

“Locked out, but not beaten, mistreated but unbending, disillusioned by this company’s disgusting reward for faithful service, but not disheartened,” said Bradshaw at a July 31 media conference announcing the EEOC complaints.


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