Kellogg's worker Travis Huffman stood near a road in Battle Creek, Michigan, on Tuesday, holding up a sign with Tony the Tiger on it, and the phrase, "I'm Greedy."
Huffman said he's worked for the company for 13 years and was standing beside fellow union workers who began to strike in the early morning hours at various locations outside a company plant.
“I agreed to work here for certain things that they promised they would do with benefits and wages," Huffman said. "You work weekends and occasionally get forced over 16 hours a day, and now they want to take those things away from me. Missed enough time with my family and friends because of those things, and I’m not going to work here for less."
Work at all of the Kellogg Company’s U.S. cereal plants came to a halt Tuesday as roughly 1,400 workers went on strike, but it wasn’t immediately clear how much the supply of Frosted Flakes or any of the company’s other iconic brands would be disrupted.
The strike includes plants in Omaha, Nebraska; Battle Creek, Michigan; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Memphis, Tennessee.
The union and the Battle Creek-based company have been at an impasse at the bargaining table for more than a year, said Daniel Osborn, president of the local union in Omaha. The dispute involves an assortment of pay and benefits issues such as the loss premium health care, holiday and vacation pay and reduced retirement benefits
In Battle Creek, union workers at the Kellogg plant on Porter Street walked out at 1 a.m. Tuesday, one hour after the company's five-year master contract with the Bakery Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union expired.
Trevor Bidelman, the president of the union local representing 325 workers in Battle Creek, said workers were "out here fighting for our future."
"I’m a fourth-generation worker here, so I fully understand what we do," he said.. "We work seven days a week, that’s what we do. In exchange for that, we live the American dream. At the end of the day, that’s what they want to take from all of us."
In a released statement, Kellogg Co. spokesperson Kris Bahner said, "We are disappointed by the union’s decision to strike. Kellogg provides compensation and benefits for our U.S. RTEC (ready-to-eat cereal) employees that are among the industry’s best. Our offer includes increases to pay and benefits for our employees, while helping us meet the challenges of the changing cereal business."
In 2017, Kellogg announced it would eliminate jobs as part of its Project K restructuring and cost-cutting program. Last month, the company informed its Battle Creek union employees that it would cut some 212 jobs in the city by the end of 2023 as a result.
The last time the union local went on strike was 1972.
Bidelman said he and his fellow workers are tired of seeing Kellogg move jobs to Mexico, and they are prepared to strike for "one day longer" than the company is willing to hold out.
"This company makes hundreds of millions of dollars in profit every single year," he said. "We worked through this pandemic last year and were heroes one year ago, and a month ago they said they were cutting 174 jobs."
Kellogg Co. announced in August a stronger-than-expected second quarter, as net sales increased 3% from a year earlier.
However, Kellogg North America’s net sales in that quarter fell by about 7% while the operating profit declined 22% versus 2020, when the pandemic helped drive consumer demand for ready-to-eat cereal.
Kellogg's was founded in Battle Creek by Will Keith Kellogg in 1906 as "Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company." In addition to the Porter Street plant, the city is home to Kellogg's headquarters. The Porter Street plant is one of over 50 around the globe, and the company employed 31,000 workers worldwide as of 2020.
Contributing: The Associated Pres
Contact reporter Nick Buckley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley
This article originally appeared on Battle Creek Enquirer: Kellogg's workers strike in Michigan after contract expires