More than 50 years after his grandfather was at the forefront of the sanitation workers’ strike that brought Dr Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis, Paul Houston himself is on strike.
In June, he got a job at Kellogg’s factory as a machine operator and was paid $ 19 an hour. While waiting for the strike to end, however, he took a temporary job at a post office, unloading mail from the 18-wheelers.
The post office job is hard work in uncomfortable conditions, he said, but he needed the money when he is not being paid by Kellogg’s. He has two dependent children – 11 and 18 – and he was starting to use up his savings.
“The money was coming out, but nothing was coming in, so I had to go get a job,” Houston said.
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The union representing Kellogg workers said last week’s talks would resume with the company on Tuesday, but some employees say they can hold on as long as needed, given the favorable labor market, with funds available for them. difficulties and the conviction that solidarity will propel them towards a union. victory.
“I believe workers feel that when they know they are right they can do just about anything,” said Kevin Bradshaw, vice president of bakery Local 252-G, of confectionery, tobacco workers and grain millers.
The union protests against the company’s two-tier pay system, in which workers who were hired after 2015, “transition” workers, are capped at a lower rate of pay and fewer benefits than workers. “old” workers. The system was introduced as a one-time cost-cutting measure that the union says the company now wants to make permanent.
According to Kellogg’s, according to its proposal, after six years of service, transition workers and new hires will get the same rate of pay as former workers, but the difference in their benefits will not change. In addition, they will never get a pension, which the old workers have. The union says the company twists the proposal and says transitioning workers will never reach the same salary cap as former workers.
“The workers know that the business is viable and rich enough to be able to pay everyone the same wages and offer everyone the same benefits. And the workers know it’s corporate greed, ”Bradshaw said.
The pandemic has helped boost demand for Kellogg’s products, the company said. For the quarter ending April 3 of this year, it generated net sales of $ 3.58 billion, higher than expected, according to Reuters.
The strike is also very different from the 2014 work stoppage, in which Kellogg’s only locked Memphis employees out of the plant for nine months after local negotiations broke down, Bradshaw said. Then the Memphis workers were on their own. But now, the solidarity between the four Kellogg’s locations – in Memphis; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Omaha, Nebraska; and Battle Creek, Michigan – demonstrates a united workers front.
“It looks totally different. It seems fair, because we know it’s the right thing to do. We know we (have) solidarity, we know we are together, we know we are united because they are trying to do the same to everyone now, ”Bradshaw said.
Kellogg’s also stopped funding benefits when workers went on strike, Bradshaw said. Local unions have run GoFundMe campaigns as an aid fund, which any worker can access if they prove they need it. Workers are also supported by local, state and national unions.
Union activists across the country appear to be capitalizing on pro-worker sentiment as unions have authorized strikes at various employers, such as John Deere and Kaiser Permanente.
The favorable labor market could also make it easier for workers to resist strike action, Bradshaw said.
Getting the job at the post office wasn’t easy, Houston said, because it’s a federal post. But he also knows that many employers in town are hiring, although he said he enjoys working at Kellogg and hopes he can return.
“It’s probably the best time to strike right now because everyone is hiring,” Houston said. He is paid $ 18 an hour at the post office, although the job ends in December, and he has no benefits.
Qualified electrician Everett Carpenter has yet to secure a second job. His wife works as a teacher and his family has savings, which kept them afloat while he was not working. But he said if the strike continues next week, he will likely turn to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union and find a temporary job.
He hopes it doesn’t come to that, because in many ways he enjoys his free time. For the past two years, he has been working seven days a week, which means he is running out of time with his family. Over the past few weeks, Carpenter has been able to spend time with his children.
“I’m involved in things that I wasn’t normally involved in, that’s why I’m in no rush. Because I never could do that. I was always there from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. I missed all of these opportunities. So I can pick up my baby from daycare; she is happy to see daddy. Stuff I’ve never done. That I never do, ”Carpenter said.
“That’s why I’m in no rush. Soak up everything. “
Hannah Grabenstein is a reporter for MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Email him at [email protected]
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