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Kellogg on Memphis lockout: The union has refused to meet since October

By Kacey Culliney+

12-Mar-2014

'We urge the union to allow our Memphis employees to vote on the proposed contract – or at the very least, to resume bargaining,' Kellogg says
'We urge the union to allow our Memphis employees to vote on the proposed contract – or at the very least, to resume bargaining,' Kellogg says

Federal charges have been filed against Kellogg and numerous letters sent calling for an end to the Memphis lockout, but the company says a resolution is impossible because the BCTGM union is refusing to negotiate.

The Kellogg Company said it wanted to resolve the lockout “as soon as possible” but has been unable to meet with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) union since the lockout started in October, 2013. The BCTGM has not denied refusing to meet Kellogg, but claimed that the two remaining unresolved issues – wage changes and benefit levels – should not be bargained on as they form part of a 2012 master contract that was effective until October 2015.

Kellogg locked out workers at its Memphis ready-to-eat cereal plant back in October 2013 over a union row regarding casual labor contracts. More than four months on, the BCTGM and cereal major remain locked in stalemate.

The last four months have seen the lockout become increasingly heated with involvement from US senators, a US congress organization, sports association and civil rights groups .

BakeryandSnacks.com spoke to Kellogg to find out why the lockout remained unresolved.  

Company vice president of communications Kris Charles said that bringing an end to the lockout was impossible because the union had refused to meet Kellogg and commence negotiations.

“The BCTGM leadership has refused to discuss our proposals, prior to and since the October contract expiration. Neither have they offered any alternative ideas or shared a written proposal,” she told BakeryandSnacks.com.

“We urge the union to allow our Memphis employees to vote on the proposed contract – or at the very least, to resume bargaining,” she added.

Kellogg said it has offered to meet with the union on a weekly basis, but “as of yet, the union has not accepted the invitation”.

The BCTGM says the final matters are not suitable for the bargaining table

Not a matter for the bargaining table

BCTGM representative Ron Baker told this site that the union had resolved many proposals ahead of the lockout – 22 out of 24 to be precise.

Asked why the union had refused to meet with Kellogg since then, he said: “The two remaining items, changing wage and benefit levels and alternative crewing, are issues covered under a master contract that is still in effect until October 2015 and the supplemental table was the wrong venue to address these items.”

He said the union had decided to file federal charges against Kellogg “in an attempt to force them to accept lesser terms on these remaining issues than what has already been agreed under the 2012 master contract”.

Baker said Kellogg had continually misrepresented facts and had “blatant disregard for the law” – something that was now a matter for the National Labor Relations Board.

Kellogg argued that all of its conduct so far in relation to the lockout had been “entirely lawful” and said it was “unfortunate the union had injected costly, time-consuming and potentially lengthy legal challenges into these negotiations”.

In a February letter to employees, it said: “The legal process can take years to conclude. We would prefer that your union address the company’s proposals at the bargaining table. Nonetheless, we are prepared and willing to litigate any and all of these challenges as long and as hard as necessary.”

Kellogg wants to clear up multiple inaccuracies relating to its proposals

Clearing up ‘multiple mischaracterizations’

Kellogg used this letter to also communicate the reasons it had made new contract proposals as well as clear up what it described as “multiple mischaracterizations” that had arisen over the past few months.

Kellogg said that many inaccuracies had been shared about its proposals and it wanted to use this letter to clarify what the real offers were.

Firstly, the company said it had no intention of replacing full-time employees with part-time, low wage labor. “Casuals would be hired only to the extent that new positions become available – no existing Memphis employee would lose their job by virtue of the hiring of a casual. Casuals would continue to be full-time, union dues paying members of the bargaining unit, just as they have been in the past,” it wrote.

Charles added that these new hires would receive an average of $22 per hour before overtime; a rate she said was “still well above the area average”. She added that Kellogg was willing to explore options on providing healthcare and other benefits to these new casual contract employees – another inaccuracy that Kellogg said had been in circulation.

Concerns that new casual hires would diminish current employee seniority were also untrue, Kellogg said in its letter. “Any casuals hired would, by definition, be junior to even the most junior current employee.”

The company also said that current full-time employees would continue to earn, on average, $28 per hour - a figure it said was 25-79% higher than what is offered by similar employers in the area. It said employees would keep their full health care for life packages and pension benefits. “Our proposals do not seek to change these wages and benefits for currently hourly employees,” Charles explained.

She said Kellogg wanted its workers back as soon as possible and urged union leaders to let employees vote on the new contract that has been drawn up. “Once we agree to a fair and competitive contract, we all can return to the important business of keeping the Memphis plant moving forward.”