Work Life

Consumer Boycott

Classic family breakfast

Yesterday’s news was workers at Kellogg’s cereal plant in Memphis, and at plants in three other cities, rejected the company’s terms during contract negotiations. In response, the company posted this statement on its website:

The prolonged work stoppage has left us no choice but to hire permanent replacement employees in positions vacated by striking workers.

Kellogg’s website.

Long-time readers of this blog may know my beliefs about unions are complex. I’ve been on all sides of the negotiating table, from being a union employee or part of a business unit that attempted to organize a union, to being part of management of union employees or business units that attempted to organize. In my work recruiting truck drivers I once crossed an unrelated picket line in Flint, Michigan to do my work. Nonetheless, in 2021 I am sympathetic to unions, private sector unions particularly. When people called for a boycott of Kellogg’s consumer products, I wanted to help.

A challenge I have is that of the hundreds of products Kellogg’s produces and sells, only two in one brand, MorningStar Farms®, are something we regularly buy. We will stop purchasing them immediately, although there is enough already in the freezer to last for a long strike. There are plenty of other protein sources in our vegetarian diet. Kellogg’s and others in the distribution chain will lose about $20 per month in revenue from our household.

The trouble for striking workers is the company is within its rights to hire replacement workers. Whatever outrage people are able to muster, it doesn’t matter to the company’s desire to continue using their investment in these plants to produce products. For the most part, consumers are not paying attention to this labor dispute and their consumption patterns are expected to persist.

Part of the reason for a lack of attention from consumers is since the 1970s U.S. cereal sales have declined as consumers choose more protein-based breakfast options or skipped an early morning meal completely. In our household, if we buy cereal for breakfast, it is organic steel cut oats which does not come from one of the major cereal manufacturers. I typically eat oatmeal during winter. Striking workers have additional problems to face than whether or not to accept Kellogg’s contract.

Our family boycotted grapes when Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta called for it in the 1960s. That strike of farm workers over working conditions went on for five years. The Kellogg’s strike was called in October, with a decision to hire replacement workers this week, indicating how quickly the company is willing and able to move.

Kellogg’s operates a global supply chain in which many parts are unseen by a local plant worker. The company could easily shift cereal production to Mexico as others have done. From a global perspective this would be a minor adjustment in the supply chain.

The teeth have been removed from boycotts of consumer products. While admittedly unusual in my shopping patterns, during most trips to the store I don’t go down the aisles where Kellogg’s products are sold. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, many people don’t browse the way they did previously while shopping. They get what they know specifically, except for in the produce department where a shopper must pay attention to quality. This behavior has implications for workers at Kellogg’s and other processed food manufacturers.

Our small outpost of support for striking Kellogg’s workers will continue as long as the strike lasts. If the company does hire replacement workers, we can move on and not purchase any of their products again. We’ll miss our recipe crumbles, yet not that much.

Editor’s Note: News the strike with Kellogg’s ended reached us Dec. 21, 2021. Happy Holidays to all.