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Kellogg urges striking union to restart talks, softens position


Kellogg Co. called on the union at its cereal plants to resume negotiations and said it's willing to consider new proposals as a workers' strike is poised to stretch into its fourth week.

The company said it sent an email to leaders of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union stating it's willing to discuss the two-tier employment system that separates "transitional" and "legacy" workers. Changes to that system have been a sticking point from the company's initial proposal.

"The company is willing to consider any proposals from the union, including proposals that would preserve a pathway for transitionals to legacy wages and benefits," Kellogg said in a statement to Bloomberg about the content of the message to union leaders. The company declined to elaborate further.

Currently at Kellogg's cereal plants, longer-tenured legacy workers get better benefits and pay. Transitional workers can graduate into the higher class as legacy workers leave their jobs.

Kellogg proposed eliminating that transitional concept, according to a summary of their contract offer that was included in a lawsuit the company filed earlier this month against the union. Under that proposal, the company would instead offer "immediate" pay increases for transitional workers based on years of service.

The union has said this new system, while it would offer higher pay in the short term, would keep workers from reaching full legacy compensation. Kellogg has disputed this characterization.

Dan Osborn, local president of the union's Omaha chapter, said that "the union is definitely willing and ready to negotiate in good faith, absolutely." When told of Kellogg's latest message, he said "that sounds like we're headed in the right direction."

The company's roughly 1,400 unionized cereal workers went on strike on October 5 at plants in Battle Creek; Omaha, Nebraska; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Memphis, Tennessee. The locations produce cereals including Rice Krispies, Raisin Bran, Froot Loops, Corn Flakes and Frosted Flakes.