As the company behind well-known cereal brands such as Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops, and Rice Krispies, Kellogg’s has cemented itself as a staple in grocery stores everywhere. It is not uncommon to find their products in the pantries of households worldwide and accordingly, they boast the mission statement of “Nourishing families so they can flourish and thrive.” However, in light of the 2021 Kellogg’s strike, the American company has begun to show that it is anything but family-friendly.

Contract negotiations undertaken in early September of 2021 between the company and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union (BCTGM) were largely unsuccessful due to disagreements over issues such as healthcare and vacation pay. Furthermore Kellogg’s was seeking to alter an employee system in which long-term employees were paid $35/hour and newer “transitional” employees were paid $22/hour. This newly proposed alteration would have increased the percentage of “transitional” employees from around 30% of workers to the majority of the workers, slashing the wages of hundreds of employees. Additionally, the system put more long-term employees at risk, as they could be fired and replaced with new workers who could fill their roles at a much lower cost to the company.

However, the workers at Kellogg’s had been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic, with some workers claiming to take 16-hour shifts, 7 days a week to cover for other workers who had contracted the virus. It would been an understatement to say that these employees were instrumental in ensuring that Kellogg’s products would remain available and in good quality during one of the most challenging periods in recent history.

These efforts would seemingly go unnoticed, or at least unappreciated, by Kellogg’s as they reportedly issued a threat to move jobs to Mexico if their changes were not agreed to. Therefore, after failing to come to a resolution, union workers in all four of Kellogg’s American production facilities—Battle Creek, Michigan; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Memphis, Tennessee; and Omaha, Nebraska—began striking on October 5, 2021 with around 1,400 employees participating in the strikes. Operations ceased at all four of these locations and picketing became an everyday occurrence outside the plants.

Some signs of note include a cut-out of the famous Frosted Flakes mascot, Tony the Tiger, with a speech bubble saying, “I’m Greedy,” and one poster that reads

“I FEED YOUR Families, But I CANT Feed Mine!” [sic].

Despite the total shutdown of all their American cereal-producing plants, Kellogg’s did not reach an agreement with the BCTGM leadership until December 2, 2021 and during the two-month period since the beginning of the strike, had opted to bring in third-party workers in an attempt to keep their plants operational. However, this agreement too fell through as the company had continued to push for the two-tiered system—something that the union sought to get rid of entirely—and the strikes continued.

To remedy this, Kellogg’s announced their move to replace all 1,400 striking workers with new hires. The    announcement was poorly received and globally panned by consumers, who took to social media to call for a boycott of the American cereal company. Netizens even submitted thousands of fake job applications to the company’s site to clog up their recruiting system in a show of solidarity. The controversial news of Kellogg’s intentions to replace employees even drew the attention of United States president, Joe Biden, who criticized the company’s handling of the situation and stood in support of collective bargaining in a statement.

Finally, on December 21, 2021 the workers reached an agreement with the company that involved upholding the two-tiered system but with sufficient pay increases for both tiers. Thus, the workers were able to return to their positions at the plants.

The employees at Kellogg’s were eventually able to agree upon a fair contract with the company, but only after the circumstances of the strike were made known on the internet and threats of boycotting the company and sabotaging of recruitment efforts followed. It is haunting to consider that, without social media, news of the strikes may not have spread as far and garnered as much attention as they did, allowing Kellogg’s to potentially go through with their replacement strategy with little or no repercussions.

With the access that the internet provides, we are now able to do research into the corporations that we are so used to giving our money to. And while it is impossible to critically assess the actions of the companies behind every single item on your grocery list, it may be enlightening to know which of them provide fair wages and good benefits to their workers­—and which companies threaten to replace them or move their jobs to foreign countries where they can exploit the workers there for cheaper labour.


References 

  1. Campos, Giulia. “Cereal Killer? What Kellogg’s Strike Will Mean For Your Breakfast Favorites.” International Business Times, October 6, 2021. https://www.ibtimes.com/cereal-killer-what-kelloggs-strike-will-mean-your-breakfast-favorites-3310958.  
  2. Paramasivam, Praveen. “Kellogg’s U.S. Cereal Plant Workers Go on Strike.” Reuters, October 6, 2021. https://web.archive.org/web/20211006033539/https://www.reuters.com/business/kelloggs-us-cereal-plant-workers-go-strike-2021-10-05/
  3. Feuer, Will. “Workers at Kellogg’s US Cereal Plants Go on Nationwide Strike.” New York Post, October 6, 2021. https://nypost.com/2021/10/06/kelloggs-cereal-plant-workers-go-on-strike-nationwide/
  4. Woodward, Alex. “A Union Fight at Kellogg’s Has Drawn in TikTok, Reddit, Tony the Tiger and Joe Biden.” The Independent, December 12, 2021. https://web.archive.org/web/20211212134657/https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/reddit-antiwork-kelloggs-strike-union-b1973918.html
  5. Cole, Samantha. “People Are Spamming Kellogg’s Job Applications in Solidarity with Striking Workers.” Vice (blog), December 9, 2021. https://web.archive.org/web/20211210222011/https://www.vice.com/en/article/v7dvy9/spamming-kelloggs-job-applications-strike
  6. Scheiber, Noam. “Kellogg Workers Ratify Contract After Being on Strike Since October.” The New York Times, December 24, 2021. https://web.archive.org/web/20211224123725/https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/21/business/economy/kellogg-union-strike-contract.html
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