April 28, 2014
By Neal Tepel
Battle Creek, Mich. – BCTGM International President David Durkee and International Secretary Treasurer Steve Bertelli, together with locked out Local 252G Kellogg workers and AFL-CIO representatives, attended the Kellogg Company shareholder meeting April 25th in Battle Creek, Mich. During the Q&A section of the shareholder meeting, an 8-year-old daughter of a locked out union member walked to the front of the auditorium and handed to each director a copy of letters written by the children of the locked out workers.
Prior to the meeting several hundred union members, labor leaders, and community activists joined the BCTGM outside the W.K. Kellogg Auditorium for a rally. Locked out 252G members, who traveled to Battle Creek to take place in the shareholders meeting and planned events, were introduced by BCTGM Local 252G President Kevin Bradshaw. They were joined by BCTGM members and union representatives from around the country.
The AFL-CIO presented Proposal 5 to the shareholders. The proposal, put forward by Brandon Rees of the AFL-CIO Office of Investment, would require the Kellogg Company to submit a “human rights risk assessment”. President Durkee delivered a statement to the Foundation in support of Shareholder Proposal 5: “We wholeheartedly believe that shareowners, as well as consumers, would benefit from a robust human rights risk assessment at Kellogg Company. Certainly shareowners deserve to know if a human rights issue is percolating within the company that may negatively impact shareholder value. Consumers deserve to know whether or not a company like Kellogg, whose image is built around wholesomeness and family, is truly abiding by its own stated principles, but also the laws and regulations in the countries it is conducting business,” Durkee told the shareholders.
“For a company whose greatest asset is its brand equity, it is imperative that the company not engage in practices that might erode that brand asset and hurt shareowner value,” Durkee stated. He pointed out that if protecting the brand is important to the company and its shareholders, the company would want to know if there was a potential problem within its domestic and international manufacturing operations. Durkee detailed the October 22, 2013 lockout by Kellogg of more than 220 union workers at its cereal plant in Memphis. “These are people who had given a large part of their lives to this company and made it the success it is today. But Kellogg locked them out because they would not accept a proposal introducing, in the words of the company, its new ‘workforce of the future’. And what would this new workforce look like? Part time, union free, few benefits, and low pay. It would be a further erosion of the middle class,” he said.
Durkee informed the Foundation shareholders of the March 27 Complaint issued by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against the Kellogg that formally charges the company with the violation of federal labor laws. He further told the shareholders that in April, the NLRB petitioned the district court for an injunction, because the evidence overwhelmingly pointed to Kellogg initiating an illegal lockout. “If the Court agrees, those hard working members will return to their jobs. The company could be forced to pay millions in back pay,” noted Durkee. “Perhaps if the company was forced to issue a robust human rights risk assessment, it may not have been so overzealous in initiating its plans in Memphis,” Durkee added.
“It is our hope that this shareowner proposal is accepted. And with it, other human rights violations are brought to light and dealt with in a way that would make W.K. Kellogg proud. For that, shareowners, consumers, and Kellogg workers would all be thankful.”