Thousands of workers remain on strike across the United States demanding higher pay and better conditions despite Hollywood make-up artists and camera operators reaching a deal over the weekend to avoid a walkout, and the tight jobs market has only emboldened them.
Kevin Bradshaw is an employee at Kellogg Co’s (K.N) cereal plant in Memphis, Tennessee, where most of North America’s Frosted Flakes are made. He feels anything but great about cuts to healthcare coverage, retirement benefits and vacation time that union officials say the company is pushing for from about 1,400 workers on strike since Oct. 5 at plants in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
“Enough is enough,” said Bradshaw, vice president of Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 252G at the Memphis plant. “We can’t afford to keep giving away things to a company that financially has made record-breaking returns.”
Some 60,000 behind-the-scenes workers on movies and TV shows on Saturday avoided joining the Kellogg strikers, but the near-walkout was the latest demonstration of force by union members who say they are fed up with meager or no raises and other givebacks. Kellogg officials could not be reached for comment but have said the company’s compensation is among the industry’s best.
Labor activists complain that while many of their members were deemed essential during the COVID-19 crisis, that has not been reflected in how they are treated by employers. With an administration in the White House that they see as sympathetic and a job market that saw a record number of Americans quitting in August, unions are ready to test companies’ resolve.
So far, at least 176 strikes have been launched this year, including 17 in October, according to Cornell University’s Labor Action Tracker.
“Workers are on strike for a better deal and a better life,” Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s biggest labor federation, said last week at a SABEW journalism conference.
“The pandemic really did lay bare the inequities of our system and working people are refusing to return to crappy jobs that put their health at risk,” she added, noting that the term #Striketober was trending on Twitter.
Despite some setbacks, including a failed organizing drive earlier this year at an Amazon.com (AMZN.O) facility outside Birmingham, Alabama, union leaders feel the stars are aligned for them to make gains.
“We have entered a new era in labor relations,” said Harley Shaiken, professor emeritus of labor at the University of California Berkeley. “Workers feel they’re in the driver’s seat and there’s plenty of lost ground to make up.”
“What we’re seeing is a fight to return or at least stay in the middle class,” he said.