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Kellogg's Memphis lockout a chilling sign of the times

A sign of the times
Catherine Hill

The former employees of the Kellogg’s plant in Memphis are now in untenable positions. Their union (Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers) refused to agree to a modest, benevolent management proposal – that all new employees be hired as ‘casual’ workers, with no guaranteed hours and significantly lower pay and benefits. Since these union employees were not born yesterday, they could see the handwriting on the wall; current employees were going to be eased out as rapidly as possible. Management, of course, insists that the agreement would not affect current BCTWGM jobs, but, according to WCMTV News in Memphis, “The company has been restructuring the plant in recent months and several jobs have been eliminated.” Yeah, right, management!

Since the union would not agree to its moderate proposal, Kellogg locked them out of the plant on October 22, 2013. On February 6, 2014, the Congressional Progressive Caucus wrote to Kellogg Chief Executive John Bryant, urging him to put an end to this lockout, which is adversely affecting many Memphis families.

Here’s a little information on this John Bryant, whose ear the Congressional Progressive Caucus is trying to gain.

1. He earned $8,000,000 in 2013.
2. His pension benefit is $4.1 million.
3. His severance benefits would be $9.4 million.
4. His heirs would reap a $15.1 million dollar benefit.

As a company, Kellogg has participated in a $3.5 million stock buyback over the last three years. Dividend payments have risen 82% since 2005.

The New York Times has identified the problems in Memphis as part of a growing trend.

“This is systematic of what’s going on,” said Thomas Kochan, a professor of industrial relations at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. “Kellogg was one of the companies we looked at as a model in the food and beverage industry in how it treated its workers. That’s gone away. It’s gone in the other direction.”

Meanwhile, the strikers have their own cogent argument.

“We have a good quality of life,” said Jack Miller, who has worked at the factory since 1985. “Why should we agree to changes so our kids can’t have the same quality of life?”

Kellogg is systematically eating away at the Middle Class – at a time when many are seeking lower-priced substitutes for their products. Kroger has a house brand for almost every major cereal. These house brands qualify for those on W.I.C. supplements. Personally, I haven’t bought a Kellogg product since last October.

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