Passed yesterday (Wednesday 30 July), the court ordered Kellogg to reinstate 200+ locked-out workers to their former positions or equivalent posts within five days.
In addition, the court said Kellogg must submit a sworn affidavit to the District Court outlining its compliance to the injunction within 20 days and agreeing to bargain in good faith with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) union over wages, hours and other employment terms in the future.
“There is reasonable cause to believe that Kellogg has engaged in unfair labor practices,” ruled Samuel H. Mays from the US District Court for the Western District of Tennessee Western Division.
Mays said it was “just and proper” to end the lockout and prohibit Kellogg from forcing a stalemate over contractual negotiations.
“The lockout, which has deprived the employees of their pay and health insurance, has been ongoing for nine months. The administrative process may continue for many months and even years to come. To allow the lockout to continue through that period would place significant hardship on employees in furtherance of Kellogg’s bargaining position, which [the NLRB] has reasonable cause to believe is unlawful,” he said.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) initially filed its request for a 10J injunction on April 11 .
A case of semantics
Kellogg locked out more than 200 workers from its Memphis ready-to-eat cereal plant on October 22, 2013 following lengthy negotiations between the BCTGM union over new contracts.
Kellogg wanted to increase casual labor at the plant to drive efficiency and profitability, but the union was reluctant. The dispute centered on a disagreement as to whether employment terms fell under a master contract that cannot be negotiated or a local, supplemental contract which expired last October and could be negotiated on.
In the federal hearing yesterday, the NLRB argued that Kellogg’s attempts to bring casual labor contracts to the plant fell under the master agreement because of how the cereal firm had defined these employees during negotiations, calling it “basically what a new hire is today”.
The court agreed that because Kellogg suggested casual employees would essentially be the same as regular employees, just with lower pay, it fell under the master agreement and could therefore not be bargained on.
“The good-faith bargaining required by the [National Labor Relations] Act does not allow Kellogg to use creative semantics to force midterm changes in the wages of new or rehired regular employees in violation of the master agreement,” the court said.