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Kellogg's workers end 11-week strike with a new contract

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

After more than two and a half months on strike, 1,400 Kellogg's workers now have a new contract. The strike took place at four plants in four states responsible for making breakfast cereals like Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies and Froot Loops. It was one of the longest strikes this year in the U.S. and attracted national attention amid a surge in organized labor activity. Here with us is HuffPost labor reporter Dave Jamieson.

Welcome.

DAVE JAMIESON: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What does this new contract look like? Does it improve on the old one?

JAMIESON: So there's a lot of good stuff in here for the workers. Some people are going to get pretty significant raises right off the bat. Everyone's going to get cost-of-living adjustments over the course of the contract, which is really important in a time of inflation like this. And nobody's health care costs are going to go up.

One worker I spoke with thought the contract was a real win. Another worker I talked to was a little less thrilled about it, and that's because of this two-tier compensation system they have at Kellogg's. Workers are divided into two categories. On the higher tier, you get a better pay scale and better health and pension benefits than the lower tier. And a lot of workers wanted to eliminate that system or at least really scale it back so that it was harder for Kellogg's to put new workers into that lower tier.

This contract does do some things on that front. It's going to immediately graduate workers who've had four years at their plants into the higher tier. And each year of the contract, 3% of each plant are going to move into that higher tier. But that's not a very high percentage, so some workers are concerned that Kellogg's will be able to kind of exploit the system and keep...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

JAMIESON: ...A lot of workers in the lower tier.

SHAPIRO: I imagine that in addition to the specific opinions about the contract, workers are just relieved to be back on the job after the strike that went on for two and a half months, particularly just before Christmas and New Year's.

JAMIESON: That's right. That's a long strike, and it's a big sacrifice. You're talking about workers who gave up thousands of dollars in wages to carry on this fight. And people I talked to today were frankly a bit relieved to be heading into the holidays with this settled. They're going to go back to work on the 26. And so there is a bit of certainty now over all of this. And they know that financially, they're probably going to get back on better financial footing really soon.

SHAPIRO: Some people have criticized Kellogg's for threatening to permanently replace the striking workers when it looked like they might not agree on a contract. How serious was that?

JAMIESON: It's a very serious threat. Even President Biden weighed in on it. That's how big a deal this was. Legally, it's not clear if Kellogg's could have pulled that off. There are, under many circumstances - a company can permanently replace workers. And obviously, that's very devastating, if you're a striker, to wait years and possibly never get your job back. And someone I spoke to today really felt like that threat may have changed the course of these negotiations.

SHAPIRO: Just in our final 30 seconds or so, you cover labor, and it's been a really busy year for unions. How does this strike fit in with the bigger picture?

JAMIESON: I think a lot of these workers were comfortable going on strike in part because of this tight labor market we have. One of these plants is in Nebraska, where unemployment is below 2%, so it's hard for companies to find workers. And so I think workers who are willing to go on strike now know that some of the leverage is really returning to their side.

SHAPIRO: Dave Jamieson is a labor reporter for HuffPost.

Thank you for speaking with us.

JAMIESON: Thanks, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUSSIAN CIRCLES' "MLADEK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Ashish Valentine joined NPR as its second-ever Reflect America fellow and is now a production assistant at All Things Considered. As well as producing the daily show and sometimes reporting stories himself, his job is to help the network's coverage better represent the perspectives of marginalized communities.