Twin Cities workers who deliver drinks for a leading beer distributor are striking over proposed changes they believe will make work unsafe.
The Minneapolis Local 792 branch of the Teamsters union represents workers of J.J. Taylor Distributing Co., Minnesota's largest distributor of beer and cider to liquor stores, restaurants and bars.
Its 95 union members are striking because of cost-cutting efficiencies J.J. Taylor is proposing during contract negotiations, even though it's offering increased wages for workers as part of the bargain.
In return for the wage bump, J.J. Taylor wants to scrap "keg-only" delivery routes, which require two-person teams, in favor of regular packaged beer routes, which only require one person.
This would mean a single worker would be responsible for delivering kegs to J.J. Taylor customers, which Local 792 argues represents a risk to worker health even with the aid of dollies.
"The only mechanical device our drivers are provided is a keg hand-truck, PERIOD!" the union said. "They would be required, in many situations, to take that 175 lb. keg up or down several flights of stairs by themselves. This is unsafe and hazardous!"
J.J. Taylor has operations in Minnesota and Florida, and is a supplier for national brands including MillerCoors and Pabst Brewing, as well as a handful of Minnesota craft brewers including Schell's, Summit and Indeed.
A number of liquor stores and bars have been showing solidarity with the union's strike, posting signs showing their support and in some cases not re-ordering supplies with J.J. Taylor.
David Miller, the head of HR and safety at J.J. Taylor's office in Florida, told Twin Cities Business the company is looking for cost-cutting strategies because of the rise of craft beers, which are overtaking "historically popular beers" including its major suppliers.
It told the Forum News Service that incorporating its 5 keg-only routes into regular packaged beer routes was a way of trying to "balance out" its deliveries, but argues it'd be done in a way that would not compromise safety.
But the union said in response that while it sympathizes with the challenges facing the company, "our safety is not up for sale or trade."