"Four months! Four long months it's been since we were locked out of our jobs and forced onto this picket line every day, and we still have little hope that Kellogg's will ever come back to the table to bargain with good faith," said one locked out employee Wednesday afternoon.
"This so-called contract will be the end of us veteran employees, if we sign. There is no 'good faith' on their side."
His sign read: "Hey Kellogg's, Where Does Greed Fit Into Your 'K' Values?"
On Oct. 22, 226 Kellogg's employees in the Memphis plant were refused entrance into the facility to perform their job duties. Many, including a 54-year Kellogg's veteran, had been fulfilling those duties well over 20 years. All are members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) International Union, Local 252G.
Like a nightmare that they can't wake up from, the lockout drags on with no end in sight. Except that growing pressure from other unions and organizations from various parts of the country has Kellogg's "feeling the heat."
A news release from the BCTGM office out of Kensington, Md. announced that the latest outcry comes from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) in a letter dated February 27th to Kellogg's CEO John Bryant:
"Many of the affected workers are second and third generation employees from predominately minority communities, averaging more than 20 years of service to Kellogg. Locking employees out, cutting off their health insurance, denying them payment of earned vacation, and subjecting them to months without income are not actions CBC believes are reflective of the Kellogg Company's vision and purpose..."
Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio), the CBC chairperson, who wrote the missive on behalf of the group, called for Kellogg's to "immediately end the lockout that is inflicting pain on your workforce, their families, and the entire Memphis community."
Although continued attempts to reach someone for comment went unanswered at both the local plant as well as the customer service number, Kellogg's is feeling the heat.
Local 252G President Kevin Bradshaw said members of the Local 252G received a letter from Kellogg's that "disregarded the union and is, therefore, illegal."
"I received my letter one day before everyone else," said Bradshaw. "It is illegal because Kellogg's is attempting to contact the workers outside of the union's bounds, which is illegal. Essentially, the letter asks members to urge union officials to put the contract to a vote. Illegal, illegal, illegal."
Gerald Richardson, a Kellogg's employee for 10 years, said the contract put forth by the company was not negotiated in good faith.
"We just need the Labor Board to go ahead and make a ruling. Whether it be for us or against us, either way, we go back to work," said Richardson.
"But this contract, if we sign, would give Kellogg's the right to maintain new employees working alongside us at a lower wage, and we would be laid off within the year and replaced by them. That's what happened to the Rossville, Tennessee plant. They signed that contract, and just about everyone has been laid off."
Bradshaw said the support shown Local 252G members and "has meant everything."
"People continue to stop and give words of encouragement, honk the horn when they pass our picket line, and even assure us that they will continue to refuse purchase of Kellogg's products until this lockout ends," said Bradshaw. "But the stress of trying to care for their families with no income coming in is taking its toll on everybody."
Tyrone Redden is a second-generation Kellogg's employee.
"My father worked at Kellogg's, and I have been here 23 years," said Redden. "We're just doing what we can to survive and take care of our savings. Some of us are working little jobs, some are depleting their savings; family and friends help out. It's been a long, hard road. We're just doing everything we can to keep things together."
Even in the snow and ice, some employees have been on the line, maintaining a presence, a constant reminder that "workers are suffering real hardship."
"One of our guys fell on the ice this week, and his teeth went clean through his lip," said Redden.
"We were trying to get him to go to the doctor, but he wouldn't because Kellogg's cut off our medical benefits the same day we were locked out. So we are not covered, and our families are not covered. His wife finally got him to go get his mouth stitched up. She was able to work it out on her insurance at work. Otherwise, he was not going because they just couldn't afford it."
Bradshaw said some families are experiencing greater hardship than others. Anyone who would like to help can go to any First Tennessee Bank location and contribute to the "Local 252G Hardship Fund."
"We are getting through with prayer and the support of friends and strangers. We always get up in the morning believing that this will be over soon. We have the faith. We have hope."