A federal mediator is slated to oversee negotiations this Wednesday between Portland, Oregon’s Teamsters Local 162 and General Distributors, Inc (GDI), a beer wholesaler responsible for getting brands like Corona, Coors, Sierra Nevada and a number of craft products to market.
The strike left some local craft brewers without a route to market as replacement workers struggled to distribute beer in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Basically, it’s kind of put us at a standstill with product,” Matt Schumacher, owner of Alameda Brewing Co. told KOIN 6, a local CBS affiliate, last week. “A lot of the local breweries in town here are dependent on General Distributing being in business and distributing out beer.”
About 80 GDI truck drivers, sales reps and warehouse employees with Local Teamsters 162 have been on strike since Nov. 17 and claim the distributor is moving to make drastic pay cuts and reduce worker benefits over the next three years.
In an official statement posted to the union’s website, the group — which recently began having conversations with GDI about a new collective bargaining agreement — said negotiations with the wholesaler stalled as wage cuts appeared inevitable.
“Unfortunately during the current contract negotiations General Distributors insisted that its employees take outrageous concessions in excess of $1.5 million annually,” the group wrote. “The concessions amount to a per employee average reduction of $19,000 per year.”
For its part, General Distributors claims that no such terms were ever discussed and that the present deadlock is the result of Local 162’s refusal to follow the typical negotiation process.
“Negotiations always start with deciding the language: start times, drug policy – we haven’t even got to that part yet,” GDI’s General Manager, Steve “Tiny” Irwin told Brewbound.
Irwin said he and the rest of the management team at GDI were “flabbergasted” by the strike and he also claims the wholesaler never officially discussed the new terms of employment, including wages and benefits.
In a Nov. 21 update published to its website, however, Local 162 insisted that Irwin had in fact discussed a new agreement and significant financial cuts.
“It is unfortunate that Tiny is not being honest and is putting the Fick family and their workers in such a deplorable position,” they wrote. “At the bargaining table, Tiny made it clear to Local 162, that General Distributors is demanding $1.5 million dollars in employee cuts.”
The Teamsters also claimed that an attorney representing GDI “notified Local 162 that they were insisting on the wages, hours and working conditions consistent with Portland beverage distributor Maletis Beverage,” a statement read.
Maletis is a direct competitor of General Distributors and also employs Teamsters Local 162 members.
While General Distributors claims they never told the union of any intentions to reduce the compensation package, they did publicly compare their wages to Maletis Beverage.
“The average hourly rate of the GDI union employee’s total compensation package is $32.79 vs. $27.21 at their Teamster counterparts at our competition,” the company said in an initial statement regarding the strike. “We contribute more per hour ($2.87 vs. $2.17) to their pension and pay for 100% of their $1,221 monthly health care premiums. The GDI total compensation package is almost 20% higher than our competitor within Teamsters 162.”
Nevertheless, Irwin said he was confused by the Teamsters’ decision to strike and accused Local 162 strike leaders of misrepresenting facts in an effort to prolong the picketing.
“We haven’t even exchanged economic proposals it’s mind boggling, you never go on strike without going back and forth first,” Irwin told Brewbound. “All this has to be in writing in a written proposal, and none of this has even been discussed yet.”
“Over 25 percent [of Teamsters] have crossed-over and come back to work already,” he added. “People who have crossed over don’t understand why they’re on strike.”
Crossing the picket line does come at a price — teamsters must resign their union membership in order to cross over during a strike, eliminating their ability to benefit from the results of any negotiations. The union has, however, provided strike fund benefits for picketing employees.
In addition to those employees returning as non-union workers, Irwin said he hired permanent replacement staff to keep the GDI business running.
A spokesperson from Teamsters Local 162 was not available for comment as of press time.