On the picket line

Fightback of locked-out Kellogg workers

The 226 workers at Kellogg’s cereal plant in Memphis, Tenn., made Fruit Loops and Frosted Flakes until the $14 billion company locked them out on Oct. 22. Why did Kellogg, whose workers earn $28 an hour and do not have to pay for health care, suddenly start playing hardball?

Kellogg has opted to join companies like Boeing, Caterpillar, Harley-Davidson and Detroit automakers by demanding the setup of a second tier of lower-paid workers as part of a concession-riddled “supplement” to their 2012 contract. Because it claims it must cut $450 million in costs per year to become “competitive,” Kellogg plans to hire ­“casual” labor — part-time workers earning $6 an hour less than current employees and receiving greatly reduced benefits.The company will also introduce more demanding work schedules.

After members of Bakery (BCTGM) Local 252G refused the second-tier agreement and were locked out, the union filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. Kellogg retaliated by cutting off the workers’ health insurance.

The Memphis plant is obviously a testing ground for Kellogg, whose class-war austerity plan is guaranteed to boost corporate profits, in line with Wall Street’s union-busting, anti-worker agenda. Even though the plant is small, the workers, who are 60 percent African American, have the support of Civil Rights groups, local unions and some lawmakers who want to preserve good jobs in that area.

The workers are aware that if Kellogg gets its way, it will favor second-tier workers, muscle out higher-paid employees and use the same divisive, strong-arm tactics at other cereal plants in Omaha, Neb.; Battle Creek, Mich.; and Lancaster, Pa. (New York Times, Feb. 11) All out to support workers’ rights at Kellogg!

N.J. cities OK paid sick days

The Newark, N.J., City Council passed a paid sick day measure Jan. 28, which the mayor has promised to sign. The law will make the city the eighth in the U.S. to require businesses to provide workers with paid sick leave.

The law says businesses with 10 or more employees will be required to pay them an hour of sick leave for every 30 hours they work, up to five paid days off a year. Smaller businesses will provide up to three days. The law affects 38,000 workers in Newark, including those in food service, child care and home care. A similar law in Jersey City, N.J., passed last October, went into effect Jan, 24.

Passage of such laws puts pressure on New Jersey legislators to pass a similar law, introduced last spring, for all 1.2 million workers in the state. While a number of states oppose the drive by passing laws preventing cities from requiring paid sick leave, states like California, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Oregon and Vermont are considering such legislation. Cities like Tacoma, Wash., and New York City are in the process of expanding their ordinances. A bill to make paid sick leave the law of the land has been introduced in the U.S. Congress, but, like many progressive laws, it has been stalled. (aflcio.blog, Jan. 28)

Farmworkers need support

Dairy workers affiliated with the United Farm Workers, Farm to Family Coalition members and union activists rallied Jan. 16 at the Seattle headquarters of Darigold, the largest dairy co-op in the northwest, to protest wage and labor violations at local dairies in the co-op. The workers have reported many such abuses since 2011, but this was the first time a Darigold official met with a UFW delegation. A similar meeting is scheduled for March 2 at Darigold’s office in Portland, Ore. UFW is asking supporters to sign their petition at action.ufw.org/darigold214. (ufw.org, Feb. 14)

Some 2 million farmworkers, the vast majority of whom are immigrants and other oppressed workers, face pesticide exposure every day in fields and orchards across the country as they plant, tend and harvest the country’s produce. The current Worker Protection Standard, which is intended to promote safety from harmful pesticides, offers no meaningful protections and is not enforced, says the UFW.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which for the last 13 years has promised to improve the WSP, is currently preparing changes. Urge the EPA to better protect the lives and health of farmworkers by signing the petition at action.ufw.org/wps. ­(ufw.org, Feb. 3)