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Sanders to striking Kellogg workers: “You’re sending a message” to corporate America

Photo of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders
Leona Larson

Striking Kellogg workers in Battle Creek got a boost of support on Friday from U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) just one day after the company announced a new tentative agreement with 1,400 workers who have been on strike since October.

At a rally at the farmers market in downtown Battle Creek, literally across the street and in the shadow ofKellogg Company World Headquarters, Sanders addressed a crowd of several hundred people from the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM).

Photo of the rally crowd in front of Kellogg World Headquarters
Credit Leona Larson
Kellogg World Headquarters looms in the background behind striking Kellogg workers who attended the rally on Friday.

"You're sending a message, not just to Kellogg's, but to every corporate CEO in this country,” Sanders said. “That in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, you’ve got to give workers a fair shake.”

“During this pandemic, you were the people who helped feed America,” Sanders added.  He said Kellogg employees told him they’d worked 12-hour shifts for 50, 60 and as much as 120 days in a row.  

"That is insane, and what that does to people, to your life, to your family is hard to know. But there is one thing that I do know,” Sanders said. “When people make that kind of sacrifice, when their families make that kind of sacrifice, you don’t treat those workers with disrespect and contempt. What you say to those workers and their families is ‘thank you for helping to save America during the pandemic.’”

Sanders condemned Kellogg for its announcement last week that it intended to follow through on plans to permanently replace striking workers after the union overwhelmingly rejected a tentative agreement on December 7.

“People have given their lives to this company. Their parents gave their lives to this company. And let me say to Kellogg’s,” Sanders said. “You don’t treat people who gave their lives to your company by threatening them with permanent replacements. Working people in this country want dignity, they want respect, they want to be able to raise their families with a decent middle-class income, and they don’t want to work a hundred days in a row."

Before BCTGM local 3-G union president Trevor Bidelman introduced Senator Sanders, he made it clear to the audience that he isn’t impressed with Kellogg’s latest offer.

"We did this for the long term. This was not something that we did for the short term," Bidelman told the crowd. "This was not something that we were looking to fix for the next 3-to-5 years, okay? The tentative agreement we will be voting on, on Monday, that's exactly what it's doing. It's a Trojan horse that's been given to us, that's going to allow us to basically harm ourselves down the road."

The chief sticking point in negotiations has centered on the company’s two-tier compensation system that gives fewer benefits and lower pay to newer employees.

Kellogg’s said on its website that the new agreement offers an accelerated path for new employees to earn legacy wages and benefits, but both Bidelman and Senator Sanders say it doesn’t go far enough.

“Corporate greed is about telling workers here at Kellogg’s, who have worked incredible hours, that when you go out on strike, we are prepared to bring in permanent replacements,” said Sanders, who shared a letter of support from President Joe Biden that encouraged workers to “keep the faith” as the strike continues.

Striking union members at plants in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Tennessee will vote on the new contract Monday.