President Joe Biden condemned cereal maker Kellogg’s for its intention to hire permanent replacements for striking workers on Friday, saying he was “deeply troubled” by the news.
This White House statement was an unusual presidential repudiation of a private employer during a labor dispute. Kellogg’s workers with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union have been on strike for two monthsThe parties were unable to come to an agreement about a new contract.
The majority of workers are rejected the latest tentative agreement brokered between Kellogg’s and their union earlier this week, opting to prolong the strike for a more acceptable deal. Workers said the company’s offer would reinforce a two-tier system in which newer employees are on a lower track for pay and benefits than veteran employees.
After workers shot down the contract offer, Kellogg’s said it planned to hire permanent replacement workers to fill their shoes. In general, it is legal in the U.S. for employers to permanently replace workers who are out on strike for economic reasons, under what’s known as the Mackay doctrine. Ability of employers to achieve thisThis greatly reduces the power potential of a strike.
Kellogg’s said Monday that it had “no choice” but to bring in permanent replacements.
“Permanently replacing striking workers is an existential attack on the union and its members’ jobs and livelihoods,” he said. “I have long opposed permanent striker replacements and I strongly support legislation that would ban that practice.”
He urged the parties to work out their differences at the bargaining table: “Unions built the middle class of this country. My unyielding support for unions includes support for collective bargaining, and I will aggressively defend both.”
The strike at Kellogg’s involves 1,400 workers at plants in Battle Creek, Michigan; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Omaha, Nebraska; and Memphis, Tennessee.
Much of the fight revolves around the two-tier system that separates newer, “transitional” employees from “legacy” employees. These latter employees have higher salaries and more benefits in terms of health and retirement than their predecessors. Workers want it to be eliminated. The company tried many things to improve the system.
“I have long opposed permanent striker replacements and I strongly support legislation that would ban that practice.”
These systems can lead to the disintegration of unions in time. They divide workers and encourage resentment.
Trevor Bidelman, a fourth-generation Kellogg’s employee at the Battle Creek plant, told HuffPost in October that if the company got its way the job would no longer be worth taking.
“This fight is about the people coming up behind us,” he said. “We’ve got to say enough is enough.”