It remains to be seen what will become of the surging labor unrest that brought us Striketober and a corresponding swell of public fanfare and support for worker struggles around the country. Some high-profile strikes—like those involving 35,000 healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente, 60,000 entertainment industry workers, and over 400 distillery workers in Kentucky—have either ended or been narrowly averted with ratified agreements. (At this moment, 10,000 striking workers at farming equipment giant John Deere are voting on whether or not to ratify the latest tentative agreement with the company.) Other protracted strikes—like those involving 1,100 coal miners in Alabama, over 600 nurses at St. Vincent hospital in Massachusetts, and 1,400 Kellogg’s cereal plant workers around the country—are still very much ongoing.
While the fate of the labor movement and these respective struggles remains, as yet, unwritten, one thing is for certain: winter is coming, and the bosses know it. With the holidays approaching, the cold intensifying, and household budgets groaning, winter will play in the favor of those who hope the spirit of strikers will break and public interest will fizzle out. The solidarity and support that has kept these strikes going until now are about to be put to the ultimate test.
When I last reported from the Kellogg’s picket line in Omaha, Nebraska, hopes were still high that the company, which reported $1.25 billion in profits in 2020, would respond to the strike by listening to its workers’ complaints and returning to the bargaining table in good faith. Since then, however, according to the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), Kellogg’s has shown little more than intransigence.
Earlier this month, Kellogg’s failed to reach a tentative agreement with BCTGM negotiators, offering only proposals that included concessions union members and negotiators have said they will refuse to budge on. “Kellogg’s continues to insist on takeaways,” the union said in a statement. “The company’s proposal was filled with conditions and terms as to what was acceptable to Kellogg’s. These terms and conditions are unacceptable to our members.” As a result, workers on picket lines in Omaha, Memphis (Tennessee), Battle Creek (Michigan), and Lancaster (Pennsylvania), continue to strike for better wages and working conditions.
What’s worse, on the heels of that failed two-day negotiation between Kellogg’s and the BCTGM bargaining team, Kellogg’s filed a lawsuit in Douglas County, Nebraska, against strikers represented by BCTGM Local 50G. According to recent reporting by the Associated Press, the company asked a judge to order that striking workers stop interfering with their business while the strike is ongoing (even though disrupting business as usual is, quite literally, what strikes are meant to do). Among the specific grievances cited is union members physically blocking the entrance to the plant as trucks full of scabs and supplies try to enter and leave.
BCTGM Local 50G President Dan Osborn said over the weekend that the current legal action filed by the company does not deprive or take away the striker’s right to picket. “We’re not too intimidated by it,” he said last Sunday. “There have been absolutely no citations issued by local law enforcement regarding the way we have been handling and conducting ourselves during this legal work stoppage. That’s not a denial of allegations, of course, but just a simple matter of fact.”
The strike, which is currently entering its sixth week, has taken a toll on some of the workers. “A lot of us have (myself included) over a third of our lives in dedication to the company. So, we definitely feel betrayed,” Osborn said. “There’s people dealing with the mental health issues, especially as medical bills are gonna start piling up.” The union has reached out to the Omaha Police Department’s Crisis Team to provide counseling options for its struggling members as the strike continues. At the same time, Local 50G is providing additional forms of aid for members who are struggling with rent or regular meals for their families. Their GoFundMe and PayPal strike funds are still collecting donations for their members.
Local 50G also plans to team up with other Omaha-based trade unions in the coming week to begin flyering at local groceries stores in an effort to educate the community about the strike and their concerns about the quality of the manufactured cereal currently being shipped in from out of the country to make up for the company’s product shortage. “We’re gonna go out with armies of people and thousands of fliers and put them on windshields,” Osborn said. “Consumers have the right to know where that manufactured food is coming from.”
Osborn predicts that the company will try to test strikers’ resolve through the winter months. “We’ve lost our insurance and our wages, and Thanksgiving’s approaching and Christmas is on the horizon,” he said. “That’s definitely in the back of everybody’s minds, but we’re going to stand the line fast and we’re gonna be here no matter what.”
As many on the picket line have attested, the ongoing support from the community has contributed mightily to keeping striking workers motivated as the weather turns colder. Local organizations still regularly come to the line to pass out hot food and donate supplies, and siblings from other local unions have come out to support the picket regularly. Just last week, members from the Bricklayers Union helped build fortified, heated shelters on the line in preparation for the winter months.
Despite the worsening weather conditions and the looming holiday season, Osborn stressed that the general mood on the line is one of determination and resolve. “We still believe in what we’re doing here,” he said. “Our resolve has not faltered, even though maybe our bank accounts are. We’re still in it for the fight. I’ll stick with our motto: One Day Longer, One Day Stronger.”