Earlier this week In a meeting between employers ‘side attorneys and union oppression consultants, Ken Hurley, vice president of human resources and working conditions at The Kellogg Co., spoke candidly about a new environment that has shifted employers’ traditional power and encouraged workers and labor unions.
In muted tones, Hurley described the tactics activists used during a nearly 10-week strike for cereal plants last fall. The strike prevented concessions from workers and forced Kellogg’s to back a plan to expand its two-part pay system. “In my opinion,” Hurley said, “the union leadership at the negotiating table behaved more like terrorists than partners.”
The conversation hosted a human resources and labor relations trade group called the CUE. Hurley said he was surprised by the aggressive nature of the union, which has generally not engaged in confrontation tactics or strikes. Hurley claimed that Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union, which represented workers at Kellogg’s grain factories, “really got a little drunk” by other strikes last year, including strikes at factories owned by Frito-Lay and Nabisco.
What’s more, he said, factory workers benefited from external support that has not existed in recent times. Plant employees and union activists encouraged support on social media, including Facebook and TikTok, while Kellogg’s management had trouble getting in touch with workers.
And in an unprecedented moment, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh walked in solidarity along the strike with Kellogg’s workers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. President Joe Biden issued a statement later in December sharply criticizing Kellogg’s efforts to pick up non-union replacement workers during the strike.
The Biden statement, Hurley said, was “basically an anti-Kellogg public release. … We really got it from both barrels.”
Kellogg’s chairman and CEO, Steve Cahillane, reached a comment, issuing a statement in response to Hurley’s presentation at CUE. “We are just learning about these statements as they were not approved by Kellogg. We are embarrassed as a company – the comments and the tone in which they were delivered do not reflect our organization’s values or our position,” Cahillane wrote. sincerely apologizes. We have a long and productive history of working with our unions. We fully expect it to move forward. “
Trevor Bidelman, president of BCTGM Local 3G, which represents workers at Battle Creek, Michigan, Kellogg’s factory, lashed out at the description of his union as “terrorists.”
“This is a company that keeps coming to the table with hundreds of millions of dollars in profits, yet still thinks it’s OK to take from the worker. That’s what this strike is all about,” Bidelman said.
Negotiations centered on a two-part pay system for many workers, with lower wages of $ 9 per hour less than “legacy” employees and partial benefits for “transitional workers.” This was a problem for union activists, in addition to higher total wages. The final contract, signed in December, provides cost-of-living adjustments and a way for low-paid transition workers to become full-time workers, earning about $ 33 an hour.
“You know, Ken Hurley fully believes that American Kellogg’s workers have too much, and we should give things back to make sure the business succeeds,” Bidelman said. “Well, I’m sorry, no one stood up for 20 years and everyone kept agreeing to CEOs being paid $ 10 million and share profits,” he added.
“This is a company that keeps coming to the table with hundreds of millions of dollars in profits, but still thinks it’s OK to take from the worker. That’s what this strike is all about.”
At the conference, Hurley also spoke in awe and scorn about a new media startup covering labor activism, More Perfect Union, which brought viral attention to the strike of interviews workers and spotlighting creative experiments on Reddit to stifle strike-breaking attempts from Kellogg’s. More Perfect Union was founded in 2021 by Faiz Shakir, former Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign leader in 2020.
A reporter for the More Perfect Union, Hurley said, “assaulted” him when he went to Washington, DC for negotiations with BCTGM. “It’s a George Soros-funded, pro-union activist organization; they had a camera, and a reporter asked us questions when we entered the room,” Hurley said.
Later, during a question-and-answer portion of the conference, Hurley called More Perfect Union a “worthy opponent” and “very sophisticated.” The media medium, he added, broadcasts “very effective videos and they are a force to be reckoned with.” I would say it is really impossible for a company, a large company, to fight the kind of films and emotions that come out of social media posts when they are so well produced. ”
The “ambush” interview, he said, “was all set up by the union.”
Kellogg’s comments did not surprise Shakir, who laughed at Hurley’s characterization of his small media team as more powerful than Kellogg’s, which has a market value of over $ 23 billion and teams of lobbyists, lawyers and PR experts. He clarified that his organization has received grant money from the Open Society Foundations, a philanthropic network supported by billionaire George Soros.
“The purpose of covering the stories of working people is to make them feel that they have power, and that is exactly what these union criminals are reacting to.”
More Perfect Union, Shakir said, did not coordinate with the union and “does not accept any funding, not a penny, from any union.” The union establishment, Shakir added, does not want his media outlets to be involved in contract negotiations and is generally opposed to confrontational tactics on behalf of workers.
During this week’s meeting, Hurley warned other employers present – including representatives of John Deere, Ross Stores and Lowe’s – that companies need to “think in new ways and be more creative about how they can connect on a personal level with their workforce. “Kellogg’s, Hurley said, set up a special contract negotiation website, monitored social media posts and communicated almost every day during contract negotiations. But it was too little, too late.” We had to start it four years ago. , eight years ago, 10 years ago, so we engage our workforce directly. “
“You have to throw the playbook out. You have to get aggressive, you have to take some risks, you have to get your story out,” Hurley said.
For labor advocates, the Kellogg’s director’s comments merely reinforce the notion that more working class activism provides greater impact and more victories for working – class Americans. “After strikes at Kellogg’s and John Deere and Kroger, and the victory at Amazon, so many workers are now drawing inspiration from each other,” Shakir said.
“The purpose of covering the stories of working people is to make them feel that they have power,” Shakir continued, “and that is exactly what these union criminals are reacting to. They are afraid and afraid that workers might take up the cause. in their own hands to regain power and rights that are rightfully theirs. “