Kellogg sues its local union, complaining striking workers are blocking entrances

The Kellogg Co. has filed a lawsuit against its local union in Omaha complaining that striking workers are blocking entrances to its cereal plant and intimidating replacement workers as they enter the plant.

The company based in Battle Creek, Michigan, asked a judge to order the Omaha chapter of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union to stop interfering with its business while workers picket outside the plant. The workers in Omaha and at Kellogg's three other U.S. cereal plants have been on strike since Oct. 5.

"We respect the right of employees to lawfully communicate their position in this matter. We sought a temporary restraining order to help ensure the safety of all individuals in the vicinity of the plant, including the picketers themselves," company spokeswoman Kris Bahner said Thursday.

The president of the Omaha union declined to comment on the lawsuit Thursday.

Kellogg's lawsuit comes after a vehicle struck and killed a United Auto Workers member last as he was walking to a picket line to join striking workers outside a John Deere distribution plant in northwest Illinois. An Iowa judge issued a temporary restraining order against Deere workers in Davenport limiting their demonstrations to four picketers at a time.

Kellogg's said in its lawsuit that union members have been physically blocking the entrance to the plant as semitrucks and buses try to enter and leave.

The company also said in the lawsuit that people picketing outside the plant have threatened the lives of people working at the plant including "threatening that an individual's wife and young children will be assaulted (including sexually) while he is away from home working with Kellogg."

Two days of contract talks earlier this month failed to produce an agreement. Earlier this week, Kellogg's launched a PR campaign trying to sell workers on its latest offer because the union declined to put the deal up to a vote. But the company said Thursday that its offer to the union had now expired, and no additional talks have been scheduled.

Ken Hurley, the head of labor relations at Kellogg's, said in a video the company posted on its website  that Kellogg's has tried to address the union's main concerns about its two-tiered pay system, wages and benefits in its offer.

"We have made every attempt to build a bridge toward a new agreement, but those efforts are met with rejections and more unrealistic demands," Hurley said in the video. "We urge the union to reconsider its approach and agree to engage in real bargaining for a contract to get our employees back to work and back to their lives."

Union officials told workers after those contract talks that they couldn't recommend Kellogg's offer because it was full of concessions. 

RELATED: Kellogg's, John Deere strikes signal 'volatile time' for economy, supply chains: Expert

The Kellogg's strike includes roughly 1,400 workers four plants in Battle Creek; Omaha; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Memphis, Tennessee, that make all of Kellogg's brands of cereal, including Frosted Flakes and Apple Jacks.

The company has said that it has restarted production at all of the plants with salaried employees and outside workers, and it is now hiring new employees at the plants. CEO Steven Cahillane also told investors earlier this month when the company reported a $307 million quarterly profit that Kellogg's stockpiled cereal beforehand to help weather the strike.

Workers at Kellogg's and other companies feel emboldened this year to strike in the hope of obtaining a better offer because of the ongoing worker shortages. 

Besides the Kellogg's strike, more than 10,000 Deere workers remain on strike after rejecting two different offers from the tractor maker. 

Employees are also less willing to compromise this year after working long hours during the coronavirus pandemic to keep up with demand over the past 18 months.

Earlier this year, about 600 food workers also went on strike at a Frito-Lay plant in Topeka, Kansas and 1,000 others walked off the job at five Nabisco plants across the U.S. At meatpacking plants across the country labor unions have been successfully negotiating significant raises for employees.