KENSINGTON, MD. — Samuel H. Mays, federal judge for the Western District of Tennessee, on July 30 issued an order directing Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co. to cease its lockout of 226 workers at its cereal production facility in Memphis that began on Oct. 22, 2013. Workers at the plant are represented by Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers, International Union (B.C.T.G.M.) Local 252G.
As part of his decision, Mr. Mays has ordered Kellogg to end the lockout within five days; bargain with the union in good faith; offer reinstatement to every worker to their former or equivalent positions; re-establish the same terms and conditions of employment prior to the company's last/best offer; and, submit to the court details of its compliance with the order within 20 days.
David B. Durkee, international president of the B.C.T.G.M., applauded the decision.
“Yesterday, a federal judge agreed entirely and unequivocally with the union and the National Labor Relations Board,” Mr. Durkee said. “Judge Mays rejected each and every argument Kellogg has made since this dispute began. This decision validates what the B.C.T.G.M. has contended all along in this lockout. Our members and their families have been subjected to more than 280 days of unnecessary pain and suffering at the hands of Kellogg. We applaud Judge Mays for beginning the process of righting this senseless tactic that was brutally imposed on these workers and their families. We look forward to our members returning to do what they do best, producing a quality product.”
In the decision, Mr. Mays said that imposing a lockout over non-mandatory terms is unlawfully coercive and “discriminate(s) against the employees for their participation in protected collective bargaining activity.”
The B.C.T.G.M. has contended that Kellogg’s proposals in local bargaining would have changed already agreed upon wage rates and benefits for regular employees, thus modifying the terms and conditions contained in the master contract that governs such terms and is in effect until October 2015. Mr. Mays validated the union’s position in his ruling, stating, “In effect, Kellogg’s proposals were not to change the casual employee program, as it insists it had the right to demand. Rather, Kellogg effectively demanded changes to the wage rates of new or rehired regular employees. Those rates are set in the master agreement. The good-faith bargaining required by the act does not allow Kellogg to use creative semantics to force midterm changes in the wages of new or rehired regular employees in violation of the master agreement.”
Mr. Mays concluded that it was “just and proper” to end the lockout.
“The lockout, which has deprived the employees of their pay and health insurance, has been ongoing for nine months,” he said. “The administrative process may continue for many months and even years to come. To allow the lockout to continue through that period would place significant hardship on employees in furtherance of Kellogg’s bargaining position, which (the N.L.R.B.) has reasonable cause to believe is unlawful. That would undermine the remedial powers of the board.”
Responding to the judge’s ruling, Kris Charles, a spokesperson for Kellogg Co., said the company continues “to thoroughly review the ruling.”
“We look forward to our employees returning to work, but we are disappointed that we have been unable to reach an agreement with the union, and that the underlying litigation will continue,” Ms. Charles said. “We stand by our position that our proposals are entirely lawful and appropriate for local negotiations, however we will fully comply with the order.”
In March, five U.S. senators sent a letter to Kellogg asking the Battle Creek-based company to “act swiftly to find a fair agreement” to end the strike.
“Many of these hardworking individuals have been employed by Kellogg’s for decades,” wrote senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Robert Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Jeff Merkley of Oregon in a March 6 letter addressed to John Bryant, president and chief executive officer of Kellogg. “They have made their career working for your company. Yet rather than being rewarded for their hard work and loyalty, they have been forced off the job. Not only are workers without pay, but families are without health insurance, unsure if they can afford their prescriptions or visit a doctor. The result is that these workers, who help prepare the food that others eat each morning, must decide whether they can put food on the table or pay the bills.”
Other groups that have sent letters to Kellogg in recent months urging an end to the lockout include the National Action Network, the National League Players Association and the Congressional Black Caucus.
Kellogg and the facility’s employees represented by B.C.T.G.M. Local 252G last fall bargained for a new labor contract at the Memphis plant between September and October before Kellogg on Oct. 16 gave the union an ultimatum to accept the company’s “last/best” offer or be locked out of the Memphis plant.Kellogg makes a variety of cereals at the Memphis plant, including Apple Jacks and Froot Loops.