Unionized workers at Kellogg Co. nationwide, including 380 at the company’s cereal-making plant on State Road, went on strike at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday after their five-year master contract expired, according to the union.

The walkout is only the second in the 45-year-old plant's history. The first strike at the local Kellogg plant was a three-week walkout in 1985, LNP | LancasterOnline records show.

Kerry Williams, president of Local 374 of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers, which represents the State Road workers, said negotiations broke down Friday evening with the two sides “very far apart.” No new talks are scheduled, he said.

"We remain ready, willing and able to continue negotiations and hope we can reach an agreement soon," said Kellogg spokesperson Kris Bahner on Tuesday.

The master contract sets wages and benefits for unionized workers at all four of Kellogg’s cereal-making plants nationwide.

Picketing at the East Hempfield Township plant, along Route 283, began at 5 a.m. Tuesday, Williams said. He described the mood of the workers as "very upbeat."

Williams added, "They’re tired of the company taking things away from us. We’ve been giving and giving and giving. It's time for us to stand and fight for what we believe in." 

The major sticking point, according to Williams, is management’s insistence on retaining a two-tier wage system that pays new hires “approximately half” of what workers hired before 2016 earn. New hires also have no firm schedule for raises, he said.

Trevor Bidelman, president of the local union in Battle Creek, in an interview with television station WWMT Channel 3, said Kellogg also is seeking to end cost-of-living adjustments to wages, reduce vacation time and have employees begin to contribute to the cost of their health insurance and pensions.

Bahner said Kellogg is "disappointed" by the union's decision to strike. "Our offer includes increases to pay and benefits for our employees, while helping us meet the challenges of the changing cereal business," she said.  

Most employees covered by the contract already have pay and benefits that are the best in the consumer packaged goods industry, Bahner said. The average earnings for most union members in 2020 was $120,000, Kellogg said, though the company did not explain how it defined "most."

According to Kellogg, its latest contract proposal was presented Friday.

Kellogg said it was a four-year offer with annual raises of 3%, 2%, 2% and 2% for "legacy" employees (generally those hired before the two-tier wage system took effect), a $1.80 COLA folded into base rates, a six-year path for "transitional" employees (people hired under the two-tier system) to catch up to wage rates of "legacy" employees and no changes in health care for either group.

Had the workers accepted the Friday offer before the old pact expired, they would have received this week off with pay, Kellogg said.

The average straight-time wage for "legacy" employees is $35.26 an hour, according to the company. Including overtime, it exceeds $40 an hour.

Including the State Road plant, plus cereal plants in Omaha, Nebraska, Memphis, Tennessee, and at its headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan, the union represents about 1,300 hourly workers, according to LNP | LancasterOnline files. But those ranks will be thinned soon; Kellogg said last month it will idle 174 union workers and 38 salaried employees in Battle Creek over the next two years.

Williams and other union leaders said the Battle Creek cutbacks are being triggered by the move of some of the production done there to Mexico, which the union views as an ominous step.

"Who’s to say it will stop there and won’t come to Lancaster or Memphis or Omaha? It’s an American company and we want keep it American," he said.

Products made at the State Road plant include Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes, Raisin Bran, Special K, Shredded Wheat, Frosted Shredded Wheat, Crispix, All Bran and Rice Krispies cereals. 

Regarding measures Kellogg might take to keep stores supplied while its production workers are on strike, Bahner said the company is "implementing contingency plans to mitigate supply disruptions, including internal and third-party resources." Kellogg did not immediately respond to a request from LNP | LancasterOnline to specify those resources.

Large strikes by industrial workers are relatively rare in Lancaster County. The most recent such walkout occurred in 2016 when Verizon employees nationwide, including 70 here, went off the job.

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