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Our bosses are so disconnected, we need to win to protect future generations...

Date: October 19, 2021

Jamie Killin, Business Insider

  • About 1,400 Kellogg employees are striking over pay and benefits, including Kellogg's two-tier employment system.
  • Kellogg employee Robert Jensen told Insider that while the fight doesn't directly impact him, he's striking for future generations.
  • This is Jensen's story, as told to freelance writer Jamie Killin.

Striking Kellogg worker Robert Jensen told Insider that while the current fight for fair pay and benefits doesn't direct impact him, he's striking for future generations. Jensen's employment has been verified by Insider. This is Jensen's story, as told to freelance writer Jamie Killin.

I'm Robert Jensen, and I'm a Kellogg Company employee currently on strike. Kellogg has been a big part of my life — my Dad worked for the company in Omaha, Nebraska, and now I've worked in the factory there since 1988.

About 1,400 Kellogg workers in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, and Tennessee — myself included — are on strike. We're striking over pay and benefits in our two-tier wage system, and Kellogg recently listed job openings "pre-hiring for strike replacement workers" who will "cross the picket the line."

I've gone from being a seasonal worker doing simpler jobs to running a line and being the tower operator, where you're responsible for six stories of equipment. Then I started working on the processing side.

The two-tier employee system means some factory employees are in what they call a 'transitional' program

These employees make less and have fewer benefits but can eventually become what Kellogg calls "legacy" employees, who receive higher pay and better benefits.

The other union workers and I initially agreed to this system as long as "transitional" employee counts maxed out at 30% of the total number of the workforce. We figured there would always be that light at the end of the tunnel for the newer employees.

The reason we're on strike is because Kellogg no longer wants to have a cap on the number of transitional employees.

The idea of the transitional-legacy employee tiers was that when legacy employees leave, transitional employees could move up into their spots. Eliminating the cap could phase out legacy employees, leaving everyone without that light at the end of the tunnel we all envisioned when we agreed to this system.

It's not about the wages, benefits, or retirement for us

The people I work with and talk to really feel like they'd be selling out the next generation if we let them get rid of that 30% cap. I personally would even pay for my insurance weekly to keep that light at the end of the tunnel for the next generation. Maybe my children or my friend's children want to work at Kellogg one day, and not fighting for this system now could hurt them later.

We as a union body can't go work with our friends, and really they are our friends — half of our lives are spent with these people — and say, "I'm better than you even though we do the same thing. I'm worth more dollars an hour than you. And you'll never be me." It's just not fair.

I'm not saying Kellogg isn't offering us a great amount of money, but it's so wrong to take it under these circumstances. It's such a crappy choice to have to make. You want to make the extra money because it's going to help you pay bills or maybe get your kids in better clothes and school programs or better computers, so you think about these things, but then you think about the other worker's children who aren't going to be afforded the same opportunities.

Being on the picket line is encouraging, because you have all your friends

We're all posting on social media. We're grilling food every day and hanging out, sharing stories about each other's families. I just wonder how long it will take these people to realize they're being stupid.

During the negotiation process, I was told the company basically said, "This is what we're going to give you, and it's not going to get much better." I think they have an outside law firm working for them.

Those people are so disconnected from us. It's a room full of blue-collar people versus the finest and most expensive law firm they can get.

I've been assured by the union that they're very experienced at this, so maybe we have an upper hand in the negotiations. I've never been to one of the bargaining sessions, so I don't know personally. I'm just a maintenance mechanic, and I'm sitting in a lawn chair for hours each day on strike.

We want to come off as real people who want to take care of our children and everybody else's children

We don't want to come off as aggressive. I hope the company can understand where we're at. Kellogg used to have a family environment with cookouts, Easter-egg hunts, and a Christmas party. We don't have that anymore.

I'm not a die-hard union person either; I just find myself gravitating toward the fairness of it. I could see as a business owner where it could be a pain in the butt, but my goal isn't to be that — my goal is only to have a seat at the table and fair working conditions for now and the future. I just want to keep the hope for the next generation there.

I don't want to leave my workplace worse than I found it, even if the fight to keep caps on "transitional" employees doesn't directly impact me. After being there for 25 years, I just can't do it. 

My dad wouldn't have done something like that to me, and I'm not going to do it to the next generation.

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