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Kellogg workers reject tentative labor deal, vote to stay on strike

By Chris Isidore, CNN Business

Workers at four Kellogg cereal plants have rejected a tentative labor deal, voting to continue their two-month long strike at the company, the union announced Tuesday.

The union did not disclose the vote count among its 1,400 members at Kellogg, other than to say the rejection of the offer was “overwhelming.”

“The members have spoken. The strike continues,” said Anthony Shelton, international president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union. “The international union will continue to provide full support to our striking Kellogg’s members.”

For its part, the company said it has no choice but to hire permanent replacement workers to take the jobs of the strikers.

“We are disappointed that the tentative agreement … was not ratified by employees,” said Kellogg spokesperson Kris Bahner. The company said the agreement would have provided an accelerated path to raise pay and benefits for newer employees to the same status as more veteran employees. The company’s two-tier wage and benefit system was a major issue for strikers.

“We have made every effort to reach a fair agreement, including making six offers to the union throughout negotiations, all of which have included wage and benefits increases for every employee,” said the company. “It appears the union created unrealistic expectations for our employees.”

The four factories are in Battle Creek, Michigan, where the company’s headquarters is located, as well as Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Omaha and Memphis. Among the cereal brands made at the plants are Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes, Fruit Loops and Rice Krispies.

“While certainly not the result we had hoped for, we must take the necessary steps to ensure business continuity,” said Bahner. “We have an obligation to our customers and consumers to continue to provide the cereals that they know and love.”

The company has tried to operate the plants using management staff, along with some hourly staff who did not join strikers as well as temporary workers. But it may have trouble finding permanent replacements given the number of unfilled job openings across the economy. Many employers can’t find the skilled workers they need, much less workers willing to cross picket lines.

The vote is in keeping with a recent trend of large numbers of rank-and-file union members voting against tentative labor deals, demanding more than management is willing to agree to.

Earlier this year, members of the United Auto Workers at farm equipment maker John Deere rejected two tentative agreements reached by their negotiating team, prompting and prolonging a five-week strike by 10,000 workers. Union members recently accepted a third offer from the company that ended the strike in November.

In the film and television industry, 63,000 unionized production workers represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees only narrowly avoided a strike last month when 50.3% of its membership voted in favor of a tentative deal with the studios.

And both of those deals were more lucrative than the one now being considered by workers at Kellogg, which would have given veteran workers a 3% raise at the start and then cost-of-living adjustments in subsequent deals.

Shares of Kellogg fell 1% on news of the vote.

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