'...This is not your grandfather's Kellogg's. The old administration was compassionate and caring toward its workers and their families. John Bryant cares nothing for those working on the line and making the company all of their profits. We have worked before without a contract in place. We knew that an agreement was coming. That's because both sides were negotiating in good faith. We were shocked to be locked out. We are not on strike. We did not walk off the line. We simply came to work on October 22nd last year, and we could not get in because the doors were closed and locked. We just want to go back to work. That's all. We hope this week with the rally that Kellogg's administrators will come back to the table and talk..."
BCTGM International Union
Four months ago when Kellogg's employees refused to approve a permanently lowered rate of pay for new employees, they knew that plant administrators wouldn't agree with the move. But they weren't expecting to be locked out of the plant where they've always "felt like family."
"I've been working at Kellogg's since 2001," said Vincent Mickens. "We all knew each other, and the plant always acted in good faith during union negotiations. We were stunned when we couldn't get into the building to begin work."
Mickens grew up in the Castalia community, where the plant is located. He could smell the sweet aroma of cereal coming from the plant and dreamed of working for Kellogg's.
"This lock-out has been a nightmare," he said. "Every day has brought a different financial challenge, but we have been making it through with God's grace. We just want to come back to work.
The Rev. Dwight Montgomery, president of the Memphis Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), is hoping to make that happen.
On Wednesday (Feb. 19th), Montgomery, community activists and local political leaders rallied with the locked-out workers in front of the plant on Airways Boulevard and said more action is underway to support the Bakery Confectionary Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 252G.
"We are rallying tonight in front of Kellogg's to show our support of more than 200 workers who have been locked out of their jobs," said Rev. Montgomery.
"Dr. Isaac Richmond of the Congress of Racial Equality initiated the call to boycott Kellogg products, and certainly, we commend him for his outstanding leadership in this issue. We want to unite our voice with his and extend the call to boycott Kellogg's beyond Memphis and urge citizens all over the country to stand with us until these workers return to work."
According to quarterly financial reports, the corporate giant reported profits last year at more than $16 billion. The last quarter alone it logged profits at more than $2 billion. Employees remain baffled about the initial lockout action and the reason for its continuation.
Numerous calls to Kellogg's president, John Bryant, went unanswered. Attempts to speak with any acting spokesperson for the plant were also unsuccessful.
"A lockout was the last thing we expected," said Kevin Bradshaw, president of the Local 252G. "Imagine our surprise and disappointment when we came to work and found we had all been locked out of the plant. Four months is a long time to go without a paycheck. But we have gotten through it with the assistance of many who drop off donations at our picket site. We appreciate that so much. Kellogg's could end this thing tomorrow, and we urge them to drop the lockout and open their doors so we can return to work."
The multi-billion-dollar profits have been possible because of the hard work and dedication of Kellogg's employees, said Rev. Montgomery.
"The president of Kellogg's makes a salary of $6 million, along with additional millions in benefits, bonuses and stock options. The workers have been penalized instead of rewarded for their work. This is wrong. This lockout is wrong, and we know that CEO John Bryant will hear us loud and clear when we mess with his bottom line. We are asking American citizens everywhere to join this national boycott."
Members of the Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association raised an offering for locked out employees and their families at its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday. Others pastors pledged additional financial assistance from their churches, said Montgomery.
"We have written two letters inviting Mr. Bradshaw to meet with us, just come out and talk with the workers himself and see what's going on, but we never heard back from him. Instead, I received a call back from Global Affairs and Philanthropy. We're not looking for philanthropy. We want Kellogg's to end this lockout."
In addition to locking out its employees, the company also rescinded medical benefits, dental, and vision benefits. Vacation pay has also been withheld.
"It has been the grace of God that our families have not really needed medical care during these past four months," said Mickens. "Withholding vacation pay has yoked an extra burden on us. We didn't pick this fight. We want to return to our jobs. With God's help, we will very soon."
CORE, SCLC, and pastors of the MBMA are asking that the purchase of all Kellogg's products be suspended until employees return to work.
"Bryant doesn't seem to be listening to us," said Montgomery. "He'll soon hear his bottom line dropping, if we all stand together in this effort."