April 18, 2024

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Anheuser-Busch workers prepare to strike at all US breweries

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

Without reaching an agreement, the truckers' union's 5,000 members 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 beer brands.

“Team Members make beer, Team Members contribute to Anheuser-Busch's success, and our members deserve the best contract. This is what we fought for and won today,” Teamsters President Sean O'Brien said in a statement Wednesday.

Anheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth said in a statement that 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 also positioning the company for the long term.” Range success. …As America's leading beer company, we have the best people and the best jobs in the beer industry.

Union members will now have the opportunity to review the contract and vote to approve it. The new interim agreement was recommended unanimously by the Teamsters' negotiating committee. However, if members reject the deal, workers can still strike.

The deal includes an $8-per-hour pay increase over the life of the five-year contract, including an immediate $4-per-hour raise in the first year, the Teamsters said. This equates to an average wage increase of 23% over the term of the contract.

The deal also includes significant job security protections for all union workers — a key demand for the Teamsters, as the company has shed union workers over the years, the union said. The union and the company did not specify the type of employees who would receive job security.

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Under the contract, workers will receive a $2,500 certification bonus, increased pension contributions and the restoration of retirement benefits for current members and retirees, the union said. The union said the company will end its two-tier health care plan, where some workers receive worse benefits.

The new contract agreement comes amid a period of increased labor activism in the United States, supported by a thriving labor market and the rising popularity of unions. In 2023, American workers led 33 major strikes — defined as those involving at least 1,000 workers — the most in more than two decades, according to Labor Department data released this month.

Union workers have been getting contract increases in double digits with strikes and even just the threat of strikes over the past year. About 340,000 UPS employees — who are also members of the Teamsters — won a new contract last year that some labor experts described as the best for workers in UPS history, including nearly 50 percent raises 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 an agreement before the strike deadline of midnight Friday.

Later Wednesday, O'Brien, the Teamsters' leader, said in a statement that the company had submitted a revised offer that “continues to ignore many of the key issues the Teamsters face.” The two parties reached a tentative agreement later in the day when the company made another offer.

In December, thousands of Anheuser-Busch Teamsters voted to authorize a strike, with 99% in favor.

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Teamsters members at Molson Coors in Fort Worth have also been on strike over wages since February 17.

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

“Our numbers have slowly dwindled. Some of that has to do with automation,” Silva said. “No one should be afraid of not having a job.”

As the beer giant has automated and standardized parts of its operations over the years, thousands of well-paying truck driver jobs have been lost, labor and supply chain experts say — a process of deindustrialization that could push local economies into recession. In 2022, Anheuser-Busch sold a distribution plant in Oakland, California, eliminating more than 140 Teamsters jobs.

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

“It's all about efficiency and automation at Anheuser-Busch,” Benfield said. “They acquire companies, bring them into the fold, and then look at how they can become more efficient and do more with less…The question is: Can we produce the same amount of beer with fewer breweries?”