Jim Beam Employees Vote On New Contract As Strike Continues

Jim Beam (Credit: Lasse Ansaharju/Shutterstock)

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Ted Goodman Contributor
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Jim Beam employees voted Friday for the third time on a new contract proposal between their union and the whiskey maker.

Two hundred and fifty employees voted on a new contract proposal Friday, after rejecting two previous proposals by the company in a two-week span.

Janelle Mudd, president of Union Food and Commercial Workers 111D, told the Courier Journal she believes a majority of employees will approve the latest proposal, which reportedly includes plans to reduce overtime and hire more full-time workers.

Workers at two Jim Beam distilleries in Kentucky have been striking for a week after rejecting previous proposals. More than 200 workers at distilleries in Clermont and Boston, Ken., left work last Friday, as management enacted contingency operations to ensure that production continues to meet increasing demand for bourbon.

The workers are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Unions (UFCW), and voted to reject the previous two agreements, according to union officials. The union released a statement following last week’s vote, stating that it wished to resolve the conflict in a way that “reflect[s] the family values and heritage upon which the Jim Beam brand is based.”

The newest proposal is an attempt to resolve some of those concerns. “We seek a better work/life balance,” Janelle Mudd, president of the union, said in the statement after commencement of the strike. “We strive to protect our positions and seniority so as to ensure our future.”

The workers picketed outside the distilleries this week and cited staffing shortages and disregard for seniority as points of contention with management. Employees are sometimes working 60-80 hour work weeks in order to keep up with increased demand, according to the Chicago Tribune. The workers have also said that seniority is ignored when it comes to assigning new roles or shifts to employees.

The company released a statement of its own when the strike commenced, asserting that the revised contract proposal, “addressed union concerns in areas including overtime and temporary workers, and also included wage increases.” The company said it hoped that, “these team members will reconsider the attractive terms offered and ultimately support the proposal.”

Veteran workers of the distilleries have not been happy with the company’s use of temporary workers in lieu of the strike. “If Jim Beam wants to put the product out with the quality that we’ve done in my 47 years, it has to have our help to do it, so it’s done right,” Bill Ball, a 47-year Jim Beam employee told ABC News this week.

Bourbon is a $3 billion industry in Kentucky, with 15,400 jobs directly tied it, according to the Kentucky Distillers Association. Bourbon is made with a minimum of 51 percent corn and Jim Beam ages its bourbon in charred new oak barrels for at least four years.

The Jim Beam brand is actually owned by a Japanese beverage company, Suntory Holdings Ltd. The state of Kentucky produces 95 percent of the world’s bourbon, and according to the Kentucky Distillers Association, bourbon production has increased more than 170 percent since 1999.

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