Thursday, July 25, 2024

Anheuser-Busch workers set to strike all US breweries

The Teamsters and Anheuser-Busch, the nation's largest brewer, announced late Wednesday that the union and company have reached a tentative agreement on a contract that includes strong wage gains and significant job security protections.

Without a contract, 5,000 members of the Teamsters union were poised to strike Friday against the company's 12 breweries across the country, which make Bud Light, Budweiser, Michelob Ultra, Stella Artois and other brands of beer.

“Teamsters make beer, Teamsters make Anheuser-Busch successful, and our members deserve a better deal. That's what we fought for and won today,” Teamsters President Sean O'Brien said in a statement Wednesday.

Brendan Whitworth, CEO of Anheuser-Busch, said in a statement: “The company is incredibly pleased to have reached a tentative agreement that continues to recognize the talent, dedication and hard work of our teams, while positioning the company for long-term success. … As America's leading brewer, we have the best There are people and we offer the best jobs in the beer industry.

Union members will now have the opportunity to review the contract and vote on whether to ratify it. The new tentative contract was unanimously recommended by the Teamsters' bargaining committee. If members reject the contract, workers can still go on strike.

The Teamsters' deal includes an $8-an-hour wage increase over the length of the five-year contract, including an immediate $4-an-hour increase in the first year. This is an average wage increase of 23 percent over the contract period.

The deal includes significant job security protections for all union workers, the union said — a key demand for the Teamsters, which has fired union workers for years. The union and company did not specify what type of job security workers would receive.

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Under the agreement, workers will receive a $2,500 approval bonus, increased pension contributions and reinstatement of pension benefits for current and retired members, the union said. And the union said the company would end its two-tier health care plan, where some workers receive poor benefits.

The new contract agreement is fueled by rising labor activity in the U.S., a growing job market and growing popularity for unions. In 2023, American workers led 33 major strikes — defined as involving at least 1,000 workers — over two decades, according to Labor Department data released this month.

Union workers have won contracts with double-digit raises over the past year with strikes and mere strike threats. About 340,000 UPS employees — including Teamsters members — won a new contract last year that some labor experts described as the best for workers in UPS history, including a 50 percent raise over five years for part-time workers.

The Teamsters said Anheuser-Busch agreed to meet in Washington on Wednesday for the first time in weeks to try to reach a deal before a midnight strike deadline on Friday.

Late Wednesday, Teamsters President O'Brien said in a statement that the company had made a revised offer that “continues to ignore many of the Teamsters' key issues.” The parties reached a tentative agreement later in the day after the company presented another offer.

In December, thousands of Anheuser-Busch Teamsters members voted to authorize a strike — 99 percent were in favor.

Teamster members at Molson Coors in Fort Worth have also been on strike since Feb. 17 over pay.

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Michael Silva, principal of Teamsters Local 919, which represents about 500 Anheuser-Busch workers at its brewery in Houston, said this week that he was particularly concerned about job security. His facility has been around for decades and provides jobs for generations of families, although it has lost union jobs over the years.

“Our numbers have slowly dwindled. Some of that has to do with automation,” Silva said. “Let no one fear that there is no work.”

Thousands of well-paid Teamster jobs have been lost as the beer giant has automated and consolidated parts of its operations over the years, labor and supply chain experts say — a deindustrialization process that could push local economies into recession. In 2022, Anheuser-Busch sold a distribution plant in Oakland, California, eliminating 140 Teamsters jobs.

Patrick Penfield, a professor of supply chain management practice at Syracuse University, said Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Belgian multinational beer company that owns U.S. brewing operations, excels at cutting costs through new technologies and automation.

“It's all about efficiency and automation at Anheuser-Busch,” Penfield said. “They're acquiring companies, bringing them into the fold, and then looking at how they can be more efficient and do more at a lower cost … It's a question of 'Can we make the same amount of beer with less alcohol?'

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