Kellogg's workers are feeling the Bern.
On Friday, the democratic socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders joined the picket line in Battle Creek, where the cereal giant Kellogg's is headquartered, to lend his support to the 1,400 union workers across the country who have been on strike since early October.
The labor dispute escalated in recent weeks when Kellogg began seeking permanent non-union replacements for the striking workers.
"I'm here today, not just because you're on strike," Sanders told a crowd of hundreds that gathered to rally. "I'm standing here today because you have had the incredible courage right here to take on corporate greed. And all over this country, working people are looking at you, and they're saying thank you for your courage."
The workers, members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers union, have been on strike over grueling hours and a two-tier wage system in which newer workers make lower wages.
Kellogg's workers say they were forced to work long shifts during the pandemic, including 12-hour shifts seven days a week, week after week.
"I talked to somebody work 120 days in a row, and those as I understand weren't even eight-hour days — [they were] 12-hour, 16-hour days," Sanders said. "That is insane."
Meanwhile, Kellogg's CEO Steven Cahillane earns nearly $12 million in compensation.
"What's going on in this country today is a disgrace," Sanders continued. "What we are seeing is massive levels of income and wealth inequality. What we are seeing is working people struggling to put food on the table. ... But you know who is doing phenomenally? Well, it's the people on top. We are living in a country in which two people now own more wealth from the bottom 40% of America, where one person owns more wealth than the bottom 92%, where 45% of all wealth goes to the top 1%."
Sanders also read from a letter from President Joe Biden in support of the workers:
"Dear BCTGM International workers,
You, the American worker on the backbone of America. I've always believed that the middle class built this country and that unions built the middle class. Your right to bargain collectively is an essential tool that protects your livelihoods, contributes to your company's success, and ensures our economy works for working people. That is why I will continue to aggressively defend collective bargaining and workers' rights to a free and fair choice to organize a union. You have persevered through this pandemic and challenging economic times. Through it all, you have continued to fight for the dignity and respect you and workers across this nation deserve. My message to you is keep the faith.
In solidarity, Joe Biden."
"What this strike is about is sending a message, not just to Kellogg's, but to every corporate CEO in this country," Sanders said. "And that is what we are saying, is that in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, you've got to give workers a fair shake. You can't get it all. Working people in this country want dignity. They want respect. They want to be able to raise their families with a decent middle-class income. And they don't want to work 100 days in a row."
Union workers "overwhelmingly" voted against a tentative agreement on Dec. 5. They will vote again on Sunday for a revised agreement that includes cost-of-living adjustments and a $1.10 per hour raise for all employees, though the two-tiered wages remains a sticking point.
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