On November 29, 2023, Post Consumer Brands called a meeting to notify the 160 UE members who maintain the facility (Local 718) and manufacture cereal (Local 777) at the Lancaster cereal plant that they would all be out of a job in six months to one year. The officers of both locals got this terrible news via a PowerPoint presentation from the Post corporate officials in a hotel conference room a few towns over, and halted further discussions until they could get back to the plant and inform the membership of both locals in person. Post told the union that while the plant was profitable and performance had improved over the past year, corporate could make an additional $23 to 25 million in profits by closing the plant and sending production to out-of-state facilities.
“This has been my whole life,” said Local 718 Vice President Tim Baker. “These companies always leave Appalachia behind. We did everything they wanted us to do so we could provide for our families — some of us have worked here for decades. But Post doesn’t care.”
Grief, Uncertainty, and Frustration
Members of both locals shared their feelings of grief, uncertainty, and frustration with Post Consumer Brands. “When Post bought the plant, we had high hopes that they would not buy a plant just to shut us down,” said Vice President Craig Davisson, who was later elected president of the local in January. “But we haven’t gotten corporate support for anyone at the facility ever since. They failed us and our families. Two and a half years later, we’re losing the paychecks that support our kids and grandkids and will be competing amongst ourselves for the few remaining local jobs. The closure will have a dramatic impact on this community.”
Post informed the union that they intended to honor the contract severance language, which provides a lump sum equal to 40 hours of straight time pay for each year or partial year of service, and company-paid health insurance continuation under COBRA equal to the period of the severance payment, but no greater than 12 weeks, upon separation. They also offered an additional $3,000 and a partial payout of unused benefit time.
Members agreed this was not good enough under the circumstances. Local 718 drafted a creative proposal in which members would be financially incentivized for every week that they stayed, and the company would be obligated to compensate any member who was severed before the predicted layoff dates, but knew they could not win this without additional leverage.
Support from Senator Sherrod Brown
Officers from both locals contacted local, state,and federal elected officials to ask for help. Local officials expressed concern about the economic impacts of the decisions and offered to help with new job placement for members. Senator Sherrod Brown’s team met with local officers via Zoom, and then sent a representative out to the plant to meet with members. When Post refused to let the Senator’s representative inside the plant, the officers held a meeting with her in the public right-of-way between the plant and Route 37 in the freezing December wind.
They made Post wait to continue effects bargaining until they were sure the Senator’s team understood the members’ concerns and then surprised Post with a PowerPoint presentation of their own, explaining how Post’s decisions to generate additional profits for stock buybacks at the expense of the community should cost them much more than the Company’s initial offer to the members. Senator Brown showed his support for the UE members, tweeting:
Union workers at the Post factory in Lancaster have served their community for decades. Post bought the factory two years ago. Now the company’s shutting it down for higher profits. The workers deserve a better deal. Post must step up & make this right.
Unified Stand Wins Additional Resources
Locals 718 and 777 took a unified stand against Post, and after days of intense bargaining, daily shift meetings with the members in the plant, and a visit from Western Region President Bryan Martindale, Post capitulated to the proposal for additional weekly payouts to members totaling a guaranteed minimum of $9,450 per member. UE also negotiated for a minimum of 10 weeks severance pay for all members upon separation; 16 weeks of Company paid health insurance continuation under COBRA for all members; payout of all unused vacation and casual time earned in 2023 and available for use in 2024 and earned in 2024 through the date of separation that would have otherwise been available for use in 2025; and outplacement services to help members find new jobs.
The Lancaster cereal plant opened in 1968 and thrived for decades under Ralston foods. UE members have experienced upheaval due to corporate greed for over a decade, during which they have had to negotiate with a series of owners interested in turning a short-term profit at the expense of workers and the local community. Local 777 Chief Steward Mike Hyme said, “After suffering through ConAgra and Treehouse, who knew nothing about cereal, we thought Post would get us back on the right track but all they did was fail us.” A major round of layoffs at the Lancaster facility is expected by July 2024 and the total closure of the plant is expected by the end of the third quarter. While members are still mourning the expected loss of their jobs, they take comfort in the fact that the union was able to win additional resources to help them with this difficult transition.
The Local 718 bargaining committee consisted of President Eric Walkins, Vice President Tim Baker, and Chief Steward Rodney Abrams. The Local 777 bargaining committee consisted of President Mike Watts, Vice President Craig Davisson, and Chief Steward Mike Hyme. They were assisted by Field Organizer Heather Hillenbrand.