- As a strike at Kellogg’s ready-to-eat cereal plants enters its 11th week, President Joe Biden has condemned the company’s plan to permanently replace the 1,400 workers on the picket line as an “existential attack on the union and its members’ jobs and livelihoods.” In a statement, Biden said that hiring permanent replacement workers undermines the role that collective bargaining can play in the negotiations process, and said he supported legislation that would ban the practice.
- Biden urged Kellogg and the Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International union representing the workers to hash out their differences. In an emailed statement, Kellogg spokesperson Kris Bahner told Food Dive that the company is “ready, willing and able to negotiate” with the union and that it has a responsibility to keep its plants running. Bahner said Kellogg’s plan to hire replacement workers is “permitted by law.”
- The president’s entry into the discussion around replacing the striking employees raises the pressure on the cereal giant, which has also had to contend with a backlash on social media and an extremely tight labor market as it seeks to get its factories fully operational to meet demand for its products.
Having the President personally criticize Kellogg’s plans to hire permanent replacements for its striking workers is signficant. There are also the logisitical difficulties involved in the company replacing 1,400 trained employees at a time when the food industry is facing a labor crisis.
And, the company has had to contend with a significant amount of negative publicity around the replacement worker plan, as well as social media campaigns that seek to trip up its efforts.
Reddit users on the subreddit “r/antiwork” have spammed job postings for replacement employees with massive amounts of fake applications in a post that received more than 65,000 upvotes. The application website reportedly crashed as a result.
Social media users on Twitter and TikTok have also promoted the fake application scheme, instructing users to place fake names with real addresses and zip codes, with a goal of destabilizing the company’s hiring process. In response, Kellogg added a “captcha” to the application webpage in order to prevent bots from filling them out, Reddit users discovered.
The Kellogg strike has entered relatively unchartered territory. One of the other biggest food industry strikes this year at five Mondelēz factories ended when BCTGM agreed to a new contract. None of the other major strikes at American businesses this year, such as at John Deere plants, reached the point of the employer saying it would replace its workforce permanently.
That said, it remains to be seen whether or not negotiations are over. Kellogg called its Nov. 3rd contract proposal, which it said would raise wages and get rid of the “two-tiered” payment structure that has been a central sticking point with the union, its “Last Best Final Offer.” When it was rejected, the company again made another offer later that month, and credited federal mediators for their assistance. With the entry of President Biden into the conversation, the two parties may feel compelled to return to the negotiating table.