As the Kellogg Co. employees’ strike marked its three-week anniversary Tuesday, the company and the union representing the 1,400 striking workers agreed to resume negotiations for a new labor contract.
Company executives and leaders from the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union will meet next Tuesday in an attempt to break an impasse that stretches back more than a year and culminated with a strike that began Oct. 5.
At Kellogg’s Omaha production facility near 96th and F Streets, 480 employees have gone on strike, with many taking turns picketing outside the plant’s gates day and night.
Kellogg Co. sent an email to union leaders to resume negotiations Monday.
“At the end of the day, we have a responsibility to these employees — which is to engage in good faith bargaining toward a replacement agreement that gets them back to work,” spokesperson Kris Bahner said in an email to The World-Herald.
The scheduled negotiations, local union President Dan Osborn said, are “definitely a step in the right direction.”
“We’re hoping they’re (Kellogg Co.) willing to negotiate in good faith as we are to hammer down a contract and get all of these people back to work,” the 18-year mechanic said.
Issues at hand include health care, holiday pay and vacation time as well as the company’s two-tier wage and benefit system. Under the system, new employees start at a lower wage scale than longer-term ones. Osborn also said the union is looking to preserve cost of living adjustments.
A breakthrough in resuming negotiations appeared to come after Kellogg Co. agreed to back off its previously requested provision to create a permanent two-tier wage and benefit system for veteran and new employees, union secretary and treasurer David Woods indicated.
“(Kellogg) have agreed to bargain off that issue. So we’ve agreed to go back to the table,” Woods said after visiting with striking Omaha employees.
The two-tier wage and benefit system has rankled both new and veteran employees. The prospect of it being permanent in a new agreement was one of the main reasons employees went on strike.
“We’re looking out for the little guy,” said Michael Rodarte, a 15-year employee at Kellogg’s Omaha facility.
Osborn said the union’s proposals have remained unchanged.
As the strike has gone on, Bahner said cereal production plants, including the one in Omaha and others in Battle Creek, Michigan; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Memphis, Tennessee, remain operational.
Kellogg Co. has used a variety of measures, including salaried employees and third-party resources to “mitigate supply disruptions” of its products that include Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops.
Organizers said support remains strong for the strike. That appeared evident throughout the day Tuesday as honking vehicles proved to be a regular occurrence outside the Omaha plant. Local unions, including the Nebraska Professional Firefighters Association, have donated hot food and supplies in support of the striking workers.
Woods said similar scenes have unfolded at other plants he has visited.
“I think all Americans understand that workers are workers and we’re all standing up for each other,” he said.