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Kellogg’s workers strike isn’t about ‘me’, it’s about ‘we’: BCTGM Local Union President

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Trevor Bidelman, BCTGM Local Union President, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss Kellogg’s workers strike.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Welcome back to 'Yahoo Finance Live,' everybody. About 1,400 workers at the Kellogg Company have stopped making Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, and other products, and instead, they are on the picket line for a third day after year-long negotiations between union and management broke down. Joining us now is Trevor Bidelman, he is president of the local Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers Union there in Battle Creek, Michigan.

And Trevor, thanks so much for making time for us. I just want to make clear, this is about 5% of Kellogg's overall workforce. So a lot of workers are not striking right now. Tell us why you and some of your colleagues felt the need to take to the picket line?

TREVOR BIDELMAN: Well, this fight is really about the future. They want to make a two-tier benefited system that does not include the premium health care that we have, nor the pensions that we have. They want to take that away from a portion of our current workforce that already has that coming, and they want to make sure that any future workforce does not have that.

And at this point, we finally have to kind of dig in. I believe this is something that's been going on really across the board for years, is workers and labor continue to get less, as the companies continue to take more. So we're out here kind of standing to fight to keep that from happening.

Another large piece of this is job security. Roughly a month ago, the company brought us in and told us that they were going to send 174 more jobs to Mexico. They're going to pull some lines out of our plants and send a line there, and also send some production from our other lines there.

So there's quite a few things here. There's a concessionary contract. You do this all after the time of the pandemic that we just worked through, still working through actually as it is, the company's profited, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars during this pandemic, and this is what they're turning around to do, to repay us, is expect us to give up more?

JARED BLIKRE: Well, and I got a summary, not a quote from another union official yesterday, saying that you know, if Under Armor and Nike, they have their products, people don't really necessarily mind if they're made down in Mexico. You were just saying there is a proposal to send some of the business, some of the production down there, maybe not even cars, people care about in terms of where they're produced but we're talking about food here. And is this one of the rallying cries that you're using in order to bring attention to this issue and maybe affect some change?

TREVOR BIDELMAN: Oh, absolutely. I mean, if you look at it, you're told quite regularly not to drink the water in Mexico. So I don't know why you would want to eat the food that was made from that water.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Hey, Trevor, talk to us about working conditions throughout this pandemic. You and your colleagues are considered front-line workers, right? Providing food for all of us. Were you given hazard pay and what were working conditions like for you at Kellogg?

TREVOR BIDELMAN: They did make a couple hazard pay amounts to us. However, when you really put it into perspective, you know, when the first lockdowns happened, and most of the people in the country weren't even allowed to leave their houses is pretty much where we were, we were given pieces of paper that we could show to the police if we were pulled over. Because as essential workers, feeding the front lines, you know, feeding America, there was a pride to that. And you know, we embraced all of that.

But then to turn around now, the company was calling us heroes, they were thanking us for everything we did. And less than 12 months later that hero became a zero, just a real quick switch of a letter. And you know, it's really disheartening for us to see how they can treat us after they turned around and hailed us as heroes.

JARED BLIKRE: We have a statement here from Kellogg corporate that I want to read to you and then get your reaction. It says, "We are disappointed by the Union's decision to strike. Kellogg provides compensation and benefits for our US RTEC 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." Your quick reaction here?

TREVOR BIDELMAN: Well, again, this is where, yes, while some of us do enjoy that, that's what they're trying to take away. So we have a portion of our membership that is supposed to transition into those things. And that's the piece that the company wants to eliminate altogether, and also eliminate that for future workers that come in.

And at some point in time, organized labor needs to stand up and do something to stop this. Because really this is kind of what's been transpiring here across the whole entire country for the last 20 or 30 years is you know, we compromised to the point where we're kind of selling out the future to protect ourselves. And that's where we're taking a stand.

You know, again, I'd like to highlight that this fight really isn't about me, it's about we. And when I say we, it's not really just isolated to just people that are going to work at Kellogg's. It's really about raising the standard of living for all middle-class Americans.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Do you happen to know if they are using non-union workers to continue to make the products you and your colleagues, your striking colleagues were making when you were on the line?

TREVOR BIDELMAN: Well, I will tell you, this is something that we are all very concerned about. They are bringing in non-union workers to attempt to make our products but the real fear that we have there is this is the same group that they brought in during the Memphis lockout in 2013. And the people that came in, they stole everything that wasn't bolted down.

They actually were bullying people, taking their lunches from them to the point where people had to lock theirselves indoors. It went as far as a gentleman that recorded himself urinating on the product they were manufacturing. And here now the company, fully aware of this because the gentleman was prosecuted, are bringing in the same exact group. And I just-- it's appalling to us. And it really just shows how much they are really concerned about us and respect us.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right. Well, we wish you the best of luck, you and your colleagues, Trevor Bidelman, president there of the local union representing those striking Kellogg workers. Thanks for joining us.