Cheerios Picket Line Averted: After Strike Threat, General Mills Workers Win Tentative Agreement

Katie Rose Quandt November 8, 2019

The plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, makes Cheerios, Lucky Charms and other General Mills products. (Photo Illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

On Fri­day, over 500 work­ers nar­row­ly avoid­ed a strike at Gen­er­al Mills’ pro­duc­tion facil­i­ty in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

On Wednes­day, 99% of vot­ing employ­ees reject­ed a con­tract pro­pos­al that Gen­er­al Mills had called its last, best, and final offer.” After announc­ing the results of the vote, a work­er-led nego­ti­a­tions com­mit­tee spent Thurs­day meet­ing with the com­pa­ny in a last-ditch effort to ham­mer out a new contract.

The nego­ti­a­tions com­mit­tee is rec­om­mend­ing that work­ers vote in favor of the new agree­ment reached yes­ter­day, which the union said address­es all the work­ers’ major con­cerns. That vote will occur on Thurs­day, Novem­ber 14.

Gen­er­al Mills has owned the Cedar Rapids facil­i­ty for 49 years. Union mem­bers work in pro­duc­tion, san­i­ta­tion and main­te­nance at the facil­i­ty, which pro­duces Lucky Charms cere­al, Gush­ers, Fruit Roll Ups, Fruit by the Foot, Bet­ty Crock­er frost­ing, and sev­er­al vari­eties of Chee­rios, includ­ing clas­sic, Hon­ey Nut, Frost­ed and Multi-Grain. 

The plant’s 520 non-salaried plant employ­ees are rep­re­sent­ed by Local 110 of the Retail, Whole­sale and Depart­ment Store Union (RWD­SU).

Gen­er­al Mills moved sig­nif­i­cant­ly away from the last, best and final’ offer that would have tak­en away ben­e­fits we’ve had for over 30 years,” Tim Sarv­er, who has worked at Gen­er­al Mills for over 37 years, said in a press release. I am con­fi­dent we will all be going to work with the peace of mind of a strong union con­tract soon.”

Work­ers were pre­pared to strike if Gen­er­al Mills refused to budge on sev­er­al crit­i­cal stick­ing points. Gen­er­al Mills’ final offer” con­tract pro­pos­al that was vot­ed down last week includ­ed insuf­fi­cient rais­es, unfair sched­ul­ing prac­tices and third-par­ty sub­con­tract­ing that could allow the com­pa­ny to move jobs to non-union facil­i­ties out­side of Cedar Rapids, accord­ing to the union. RWD­SU Vice Pres­i­dent Roger Grob­stich said that con­tract did not guar­an­tee pre­mi­um pay” for a poten­tial 12-hour shift.

The con­tract also failed to guar­an­tee main­tained ben­e­fits for the extent of the con­tract, includ­ing pen­sions, 401k con­tri­bu­tions and med­ical insur­ance. Under that offer, ben­e­fits could basi­cal­ly change at any time dur­ing the term of the con­tract with­out real­ly doing any nego­ti­at­ing with the union,” said Grobstich.

Grob­stich said in a press release on Fri­day that Gen­er­al Mills moved on all key areas: wages, sched­ul­ing prac­tices, out­sourc­ing and main­te­nance of benefits.

Ahead of Thursday’s nego­ti­a­tions, Grob­stich said the nego­ti­at­ing com­mit­tee would do every­thing they can do to avoid a strike,” but that a strike was absolute­ly” on the table if Gen­er­al Mills refused to offer a fair contract. 

Not a sin­gle one of our union mem­bers at Gen­er­al Mills ever want­ed to walk out of the facil­i­ty and go on strike,” Grob­stich said on Fri­day. They were pushed to the edge by a com­pa­ny that has for far too long been slow­ly strip­ping away their long-held need­ed ben­e­fits. The fact that the com­pa­ny came back to the table imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing a 99% no vote on a bad con­tract shows the strength of our mem­bers and the impact their work has on the com­pa­ny every day.”

Nego­ti­a­tions began in Jan­u­ary, when plant employ­ees vot­ed to join RWD­SU. Work­ers vot­ed to autho­rize a strike on Octo­ber 3. RWD­SU also rep­re­sents Cedar Rapids work­ers at a near­by Quak­er Oats facil­i­ty, who vot­ed to accept their own con­tract deal on Thurs­day. The Quak­er Oats con­tract promised a 10% salary increase over four years.

Pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Kamala Har­ris and Pete Buttigieg tweet­ed sup­port for the Gen­er­al Mills work­ers ear­li­er this week after the results of their vote were announced.

Gen­er­al Mills employ­ees protest­ed through­out Cedar Rapids ear­ly this week, includ­ing a Mon­day protest out­side the house of a gen­er­al man­ag­er of the plant.

I think it helped show the com­mu­ni­ty that we’re strong,” said Starv­er said of Monday’s protests. We’re a strong work­force. And we’re going to stay together.”

Katie Rose Quandt is a Brook­lyn-based reporter who writes about social jus­tice, pris­ons and inequal­i­ty. Katie Rose Quandts work has appeared in Slate, Moth­er Jones, Bill​Moy​ers​.com and In These Times.
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