Just days after a false report circulated that Kellogg Co. was finally willing to negotiate with the 226 unionized workers it locked out of its Memphis plant last October, the National Labor Relations Board has filed a formal complaint that says the cereal giant is in violation of federal labor law.
The New Orleans office of the NLRB has scheduled a hearing on the case to take place in Memphis May 5.
The Battle Creek, Mich.-based company locked out its Memphis workers after their union, the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers, opposed plans to cut wages and benefits as well as hire new "casual" workers at lower pay.
"We wish that we could go back in there," says locked-out worker Robert McGowen, a 23-year veteran at the Memphis plant and one of workers protesting Kellogg's actions on the road outside the plant, sometimes in freezing temperatures. "All they got to do is open the gates and let us negotiate if they're serious about negotiating."
WMC-TV in Memphis reported March 20 that a NAACP official claimed the company was finally willing to negotiate with the 226 workers. The television station said the Rev. Keith Norman announced the development during a NAACP gathering.
McGowen says the report was "a cross-up" and that the company only submitted to workers the same contract offer it had proposed before. "We got a letter from the company saying they want to negotiate the same package. … They're supposed to be negotiating with our union. That is another violation."
McGowen says he and his fellow locked-out workers plan to continue their protest until the issue is resolved. "We are going to ride it out. We're still out there."
Their picketing outside the plant has won them widespread support from the local community and beyond, including the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C. Most of the workers at the Memphis plant are African American.
Workers lay the blame for the lockout on Kellogg CEO and president John Bryant. Bryant took over leadership of the company in 2011. McGowen says he and other members of the union always got along well with Kellogg management until Bryant's take-no-prisoners approach to union negotiations.