Bourbon producer signals plan to hire non-union replacement workers in Kentucky warehouses

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Declaring a deadlock in contract negotiations with striking union workers, global spirits producer Heaven Hill said Monday it would begin hiring permanent replacement workers for bottling and warehouse operations in Kentucky.

Union leaders responded that they were ready to continue negotiations and accused the company of wanting to replace long-tenured workers with non-union workers.

About 420 members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23D have been on strike for more than five weeks. They voted overwhelmingly last month to reject a new five-year contract offer and formed picket lines in operations from Heaven Hill to Bardstown.

Heaven Hill, a family business, produces Evan Williams, one of the world’s best-selling bourbons. Other Kentucky-based Heaven Hill brands include Elijah Craig, Henry McKenna, Old Fitzgerald, Larceny, and Parker’s Heritage Collection.

The conflict revolved around health and scheduling issues for workers. The scheduling dispute was a sign of the growing difficulties of the bourbon industry as it tries to meet growing global demand.

Heaven Hill said in a statement Monday that it had negotiated in “good faith” with the union, but the parties were unable to reach an agreement. The company will now begin the process of hiring permanent replacement workers, he said.

“Our community employees told us they were in favor of the proposed contract terms and eager to return to work,” said Heaven Hill President Max L. Shapira. “Considering Heaven Hill’s long-standing and positive working relationship with its employees, it is disappointing that we have not been able to come to an agreement with the union leadership. “

Local union president Matt Aubrey condemned the company’s latest move.

“It is astonishing that Heaven Hill refuses to continue negotiations and resorts to hiring non-union workers to try to fend off the Kentucky men and women who have worked hard in the company for generations and made it so successful. ‘she is today,’ he said in a statement.

He said the union was willing to meet with company negotiators to continue talks.

Aubrey accused the company of refusing to bargain in good faith and said the union had filed unfair labor practices charges against Heaven Hill with the National Labor Relations Board.

The company said its operations continued with “limited interruptions” during the strike due to a “successful contingency plan”.

Workers often spent long careers in Kentucky’s bourbon distilleries, and the jobs often attract several generations of families. Disputes occasionally arise and other strikes have taken place in recent years at Jim Beam and Four Roses – other iconic names in the bourbon industry.

The bourbon industry is on a long upward trajectory.

Combined sales of bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and rye whiskey increased 8.2%, or $ 327 million, to $ 4.3 billion in 2020, despite plummeting bar and restaurant sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Distilled Spirits Council reported early. This year.

Kentucky distilleries produce 95% of the world’s bourbon supply, according to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

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