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Standing in the shadow of the Kellogg Co. World Headquarters in downtown Battle Creek on Friday, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders addressed hundreds gathered in support of the company's 1,400 striking workers.
"All over this country, working people are looking at you and they are saying thank you for your courage," the two-time presidential candidate and independent senator from Vermont told the crowd. "You're sending a message; not just to Kellogg's, but to every corporate CEO in this country. And what we are saying is that in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, you have to give workers a fair shake."
The rally was hosted by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Local 3-G union, which represents 325 workers in Battle Creek at Kellogg's ready-to-eat cereal plant. Also striking are BCTGM union workers at the company's cereal plants in Memphis, Tennessee; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Omaha, Nebraska.
Workers walked off the job Oct. 5 following the expiration of the extended one-year contract with the company, demanding better wages and benefits.
A central issue in the negotiations has been the company's two-tiered compensation structure agreed upon in 2015 under which employees are divided between "legacy" and "transitional" workers. The latter are newer employees who receive lower wages and fewer benefits than their veteran colleagues.
On Dec. 16, Kellogg Co. and the BCTGM union representatives reached a second tentative agreement, which workers will vote on Monday. The previous tentative agreement was "overwhelmingly" voted down by the union on Dec. 5.
KELLOGG STRIKE: Kellogg Co., union reach second tentative agreement
Trevor Bidelman, president of the Local 3-G and a fourth-generation Kellogg Co. worker, called the latest tentative agreement a "Trojan horse" in his remarks to the crowd.
"We did this for the long term. Not something that we did for the short term," he said. "This is not something that we were looking to fix for the next 3-to-5 years. The tentative agreement we will be voting on Monday, that's exactly what it's doing. It's a Trojan horse that's been given to us, that's going to allow us to basically harm ourselves down the road."
Bradley Mapes, a mechanical technician who has worked for the company for 17 years, was among the striking union workers attending the rally. He said didn't feel the latest tentative agreement adequately accomplishes the union's goals.
"Not a whole lot of us, actually not anybody I know is in support of it. I guess we'll find out after Monday," he said. "A fair contract would be equal pay and equal treatment. We just want everybody to be treated as equal."
During his 10-minute speech, Sanders railed against wealth inequality and corporate greed. He also read from a letter written by President Joe Biden addressed to the BCTGM International union members on strike.
Biden previously released an official statement condemning the company for its plan to hire permanent replacement workers after the first tentative agreement was rejected. Sanders and six of his senate colleagues also sent a letter to Kellogg CEO Steve Cahillane on Oct. 28 expressing support for the striking workers.
"Let me say to Kellogg's," Sanders said. "You don't treat people who gave their lives to your company by threatening them with permanent replacements."
The last nationwide walkout among Kellogg's cereal makers was in 1972 and lasted 21 days.
Contact reporter Nick Buckley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley
This article originally appeared on Battle Creek Enquirer: Bernie Sanders rallies with striking workers outside Kellogg Co. HQ