Back To Bourbon: Jim Beam Employees End Strike

Jim Beam (Credit: Lasse Ansaharju/Shutterstock)

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Jim Beam employees ended a week-long strike at two bourbon distilleries in Kentucky after approving the company’s latest contract offer.

Union members — who have been picketing for a week at distilleries located in Clermont and Boston, Ky. — voted overwhelmingly to pass the company’s third contract proposal in three weeks. The United Food and Commercial Workers union local 111D said that its members voted 204-19, in favor of the new contract Friday.

The strike began after workers rejected the company’s first and second contract proposals. The key issues for employees were the use of part-time workers and the number of hours its full-time employees were subjected to. The union wanted to keep more full-time workers year-around, instead of relying on temporary workers whenever demand for the Kentucky bourbon spiked.

The workers picketed outside the distilleries for the past week, citing staffing shortages and disregard for seniority as points of contention with management. Employees sometimes work 60-80 hour 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.

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, who has worked at Jim Beam for 47 years, told ABC News.

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.

UFCW vice president George Orlando said in a statement:

Through the negotiation of mutually beneficial changes in key areas such as staffing, the number and use of agency workers, wage inequities, seniority recognition, work schedules, and the effect of excessive overtime on quality of life, the parties have committed to reestablishing a better workplace environment, early problem solving and enhancing their pride in production and integrity of the Jim Beam brand.

Janelle Mudd, president of the union local 111D, said they had hoped to avoid a strike, but she believes their concerns were heard. “The final proposal includes many of the key elements that we felt so strongly about, such as equal pay for equal work, a cap on temporary employees and the hiring of more full-time employees,” Mudd said.

“This outcome is good news for our people, our customers and fans of Jim Beam everywhere,” Jim Beam executive David Hunter told reporters after workers accepted the offer.

The Jim Beam brand is owned by Suntory Holdings Ltd., a Japanese beverage company.

The workers will resume whiskey production Monday, according a union spokesman.

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