A Brief History

Grain milling in the U.S. and Canada began with the establishment of mills along streams, which provided a source of power. Theses early mills were located in settled areas of the country and served a local population only. As the nation expanded westward and cultivated the great grain fields of the west, grain milling became a bigger business, and large milling companies were established in Buffalo, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Toledo, Chicago, and other midwest cities.


Meanwhile, in the 1890's in the City of Battle Creek, Dr. John Kellogg developed a flaked pre-cooked cereal for some of his patients. His brother William took the concept of the flaked cereal and developed it into, what is today, a thriving part of the grain industry.

As the country grew, so too the milling industry expanded in size and required more workers to operate the mills and elevators. Working conditions in the early days of the industry were appalling, with twelve-hour days common and wages low.


The first attempt to bargain with grain milling management in Minneapolis occurred in 1894 when the Flour Packers and Nailers Union staged a sho9rt strike, unsupported by other unorganized workers. Rebuffed in this attempt, but not discouraged, workers in the mills contributed to gain supporters during the following eight years. In 1902 the workers in one Minneapolis flour mill organized and succeeded in gaining an eight-hour day.


The next year, following a two-month strike, the eight-hour day was extended to all workers in the seventeen Minneapolis flour mills. Union gains were hared to come by in the early years of the twentieth century, but by the First World War the climate for collective bargaining had improved a bit. The Clayton Act, in 1914, called by Samuel Gompers the "Magna Carta of Labor" declared that labor was "not a commodity," and more importantly, the administration of Woodrow Wilson looked favorably on collective bargaining efforts of the AFL, especially since the AFL supported the war efforts. Improvements won during these years included pay hikes, extra pay for holidays, paid vacations, and other fringe benefits. These early attempts at collective bargaining were met by fierce employer resistance, but in spite of this resistance, workers were able to establish labor unions in many mills between 1900 and 1930. It would take the New Deal Era of the 1930's for these separate local unions to merge together into what eventually would become the American Federation of Grain Millers. The election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 ushered in a new era for the country. Determined to lift the country out of the Great Depression, FDR instituted numerous social programs under his New Deal. Collective bargaining was encourage by the Wagner Act of 1935, and trade union organizing brought in millions of members in the next few years, although always in the fact of fierce resistance by employers.


In the early 1930's , the first attempts were made to establish formal links between the numerous federal labor unions in the milling industry. In 1935, the Tri-State Council of Grain Processors was formed by several local unions in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.


Then in 1936, delegates from several federal unions got together to discuss forming a national union in the grain milling and processing industry. By this time federal labor unions already represented thousands of workers in flour mills, feed mills, soybean and corn processing plants, cereal plants and other grain related industries. After an initial meeting in Keikuk, Iowa in April, 1936, the AFL called for a meeting in July of delegates from federal labor unions all over the country. At this meeting in July, 1936 in Toledo, the National Council of Grain Processors (NCGP) was formed .


William Schoenberg was appointed by the FL President Green to had up the new council. Schoenberg left a few months later to become president of the Cement Workers Union, and he was replaced by Meyer Lew, who headed the NCGP until 1940.


In 1937 national collective bargaining agreements were negotiated with six major milling companies and the NCGP used these national contracts a springboard to spur organizing in these companies.


At the 1940 convention of the NCGP in Wichita, Kansas, Lew stepped down and the delegates elected two new officers to head up the council; Same Ming from a Seattle local was elect President and Bill Yunkers from Mineaplis was elected Secretary-Treasurer.

The 1940 Convention also elected nine regional Vice presidents of the council and located the councils offices in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A per capita tax of 10 cents per member was established to fund the work of the council.


During the war years the council, which became the American Federation of Grain Processors (AFGP) in October, 1941, pledged along with most unions to honor the no-strike policy of the AFL. The AFGP first petitioned the AFL for an international union charter in 1941 and kept working towards getting a charter through the war years.

By the end of World War II, membership in the AFGP had risen to over 25,000 members in flour mills, feed mills, corn and soybean processing plants and cereal plants. Efforts increased to obtain a charter as an international union in the grain milling and processing industry.


Secretary-Treasurer Bill Yohnkers died in April, 1946 and was replaced by Harold Schneider.


In 1948, the AFL finally granted an International Union charter to the AFGP and the new union was called The American Federation of Grain Millers. Ming and Schneideer were re-elected to serve as the tip officers, and eleven district vice presidents help carry on the major work of the union -- organizing new members and negotiating contracts.


In 1949 the union organized its first Canadian local, a Kellogg plant in London, Ontario. In the next few years, numerous Canadian locals were chartered by the union, bringing thousands of members into the AFGM. In 1956 the union became affiliated with the Canadian Labour Congress.


During the 1950's the union grew, organizing new members in many new jurisdictions like paper mills, ironwork plants, box and envelope factories, paint manufacturing and office workers. But the organizing was never easy.


In order to organize new workers and to improve the working conditions in mills, plans, and elevators, it was sometimes necessary to strike. A nation-wide strike against milling companies occurred in 1954, to establish a steady work week and other strikes were called at corn mills, elevators, and other factories to win concessions from employers.


In 1952 the union signed its first union label agreement. Later agreements with other companies would put the union label ion boxes of cereal, sugar, and flour in millions of American homes.


In 1960 at the unions Seventh Convention in Denver, the International Council of Sugar Workers and Allied Industries merged with the AFGM, adding approximately 5,00 new members. Sam Ming stepped down as President, succeeded by Roy Wellborn.


In 1961 the union's new headquarters building was inaugurated in Minneapolis financed by building bonds purchased by AFGM local unions.The two major thrusts of the '60's were organizing and political action. The union succeeded in winning over several thousand new members in the early years of the 1960's, winning about two-thirds of its organizing elections.


Local unions were encouraged to become more involved in political issues at the national as well as local level, and in 1964 the AFGNM won the AFL-CIO's 100% COPE (Committee on Political Education) Award.


In 1968 the union succeeded in signing a master agreement with Kellogg for the first time, incorporating some 5,000 Kellogg workers under one contract.


In the early 1970's the union lost two Secretary-Treasurers within a month with Schneider dying in December, 1971 and his successor, Wayne Strader, dying in January, 1972. Harold Tevis was elected Secretary-Treasurer in March, 1972 a post he held for the net five years.


In 1972 the Federal Trade Commission filed suit against the major cereal companies, claming they monopolized the cereal market and threatening to break the companies into several smaller companies. This action threatened the working conditions and wages won by the AFGM in national agreements. The union, therefore, actively participated in the hearings on the monopoly charges over the course of the next ten years before the FTC finally dropped the charges, leaving the companies and labor contracts whole.

By the mid 1970's the union was becoming heavily involved with health and safety issues in its mills, elevators, and plants. In Dulth/Superior, the union began investigating the effects of pesticides on grain elevator workers. Over the course of the next ten years, this work led to the banning of those pesticides most closely associated with cancer and strong restrictions on the use of other pesticides.


The AFL-CIO's Food and Beverage Trade Department (which became the Food and Allied Service Trades Department or FASTT in 1983) worked with the union on health and safety issues through the 1970's As grain elevator explosions became more and more common in the 1970's resulting in much loss of life, the Food and Beverage Trade Department, with the American Federation of Grain Millerts. fought or a tough grain dust standard to reduce the dust levels in elevators

But the push for a grain dust standard was successfully resisted by the grain milling companies. To date, OSHA still has not issu4d a grain dust standard though the union continues to fight for it and elevators continue to explode.

esides working the Food and Beverage Trades Department, the AFGM also affiliated with other departments of the national AFL-CIO in order to give the union a greater voice in political and economic affairs. The FAFGM joined the Industrial Union Department, the Maritime Trades Department, and the Union Labor and Service Trades Department.


In the late 1970's the union's leadership changed. Harold Tebvis retired as Secretary-in 1977, replaced by Joseph T. Smisek. Roy Wellborn retired in 1979, succeeded by Frank T. Hoese.


In the late 1970's the union's leadership changed. Harold Tebvis retired as Secretary-in 1977, replaced by Joseph T. Smisek. Roy Wellborn retired in 1979, succeeded by Frank T. Hoese.


At the 1983 convention in St. Paul, the union elected a new slate of leaders; Rovert W. Willis as President, Larryu R. Jackson as Secretary-Treasurer, and Gerald P. Miller as EXecutive Vice President.


The 1980's are seeing a continuation of the union's commitment to health and safety. The union continues to testify about the need for stronger restrictions on pesticides and the need for a strong grain dust and standard. In 1984 with the help of a grant from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the union established its own Health and Safety Department to help train local unions in all aspects of workplace health and safety.


In 1984 also saw the first retiree chapters formed in the AFGM. These AFGM retiree chapters hope to tap the knowledge, skill, and dedication of former members and enlist their help in the union's battles.


For the remainder of the 1980's , the International Union provided innovative programs for their members; ten $1,000 scholarships awarded yearly to AFGM members and their dependents through the United States and Canada, a credit card program offering lower interest rates, a legal aid program providing low cost legal services and a new mortgage loan program for AFGM members through the assistance of the AFL-CIO.


At the Twenty-Second Constitutional Convention, which was held in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1991, with the retirement of Robert W. Willis as General President, the delegates elected Larry R. Jackson as their new General President along with Howard W. Roe as the General Secretary0Treasurer. Also, Larry D. Barber was elected EXecutive Vice President and Assistant to the President.

At the Convention, the Grain Millers International Union released newly published magazine entitled, "A Statement of Policy and Guidelines for Local Unions, the role Local Unions should play in forming a labor management partnership for New Work Systmes":

The International Union has recognized for some time that if we are to remain competitive and grow in the '90' s and the twenty u-first century, it is going to be necessary that changes be made in the traditional sense of organized labor. There, this booklet was prepared for Local Unions to assist them in making that change.

In the early to mid 90's, the Grain Millers International Union was affected by the merger mania that took place in the late 1980's. Many employers were down-sizing, right-sizing, re-engineering, retrofitting their facilities which resulted in a loss of membership. Even though they were able to organize the independent union of MinnDat Sugar Company ny in Wahpeton, North Dakota and Shiremanstwon, Pennsylvania - a Quaker Oats facility.

At the Twenty-Fourth Constitutional Convention, the delegates approved the elimination of the Executive Vice President position, going to the four-year convention and increase the per capita tax in an attempt to prosper and grow as we approach the 21st century. In addition, Larry R. Jackson and Larry D. Barber were unopposed and elected as President and Secretary-Treasurer respectively.


In 1997, the American Federation of Grain Millers held its first Educational Conference in Washington, DC which was a huge success. The members, in addition to addressing topics such as Organizing, Grievance Processing, Last Will & Testament, in-depth discussions on 401-K's, had an opportunity to tout the nation's capitol.


In October of 1998, General President Larry R. Jackson called a Special Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada for the delegates to consider a merger with the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers International Union. The General Executive Board and Representatives were all in favor of the merger as a result of the continual downsizing, merging and closing of facilities which affected the size of the organization. At that convention, the delegates in attendance voted overwhelmingly to approve the merger which becomes effective January 1, 1999.

The new name of the International Union will be the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM0.

The Grain Millers will retain their International headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota with Larry d. Barber serving as Executive Vice President over the Grain Miller sector.