MINNEAPOLIS — “We’re striking for safety,” Todd Tucker, a 20-year driver for J.J. Taylor, Minnesota’s largest beer distributor, told Socialist Workers Party members and supporters when we joined their picket line here April 17.
The 95 drivers, helpers and warehouse workers, members of Teamsters Local 792, went on strike April 9. “The company is demanding we accept a contract that would allow them to eliminate helpers on routes,” Tucker said, “including ones with deliveries of kegs that weigh up to 175 pounds.”
The bosses offered some wage increases in exchange for the elimination of the two-man truck crew. “If we accept that,” he said, “we know we will get hurt. It’s guaranteed.
“Those teachers that went on strike in West Virginia and other states are showing people what we can do when we stand up for what’s right,” Tucker said.
The company wants to cut its labor costs by creating a “more elastic” delivery route structure, eliminating most keg-only routes that now require a driver and “qualified helper,” and combining keg and packaged beer deliveries. “We were trying to balance out the routes but we were never doing so to compromise safety,” David Miller, head of the company’s human resources and safety department at the company’s head office in Jupiter, Florida, told the St Paul Pioneer Press. He claimed the company is one of the safest wholesalers in the country.
The bosses hired strikebreaking company Huffmaster to staff routes and provide security during the strike. Strikers report that replacement workers, brought to and from work in vans with tinted windows, weren’t told about the contract dispute, but that they were needed to “help with the busy season.”
Huffmaster on its website says it has “earned its reputation as the leading strike management resource on the front lines of many of the nation’s most difficult and high-profile labor disputes. … We can provide replacement workers, strike-trained uniformed officers and a full array of supporting services.”
“We are getting a lot of support,” said Greg Flohaug, who has worked for J.J. Taylor for 18 years. “People have come here with pizza and other food, water, coffee, lots of things — even raincoats last week,” he said. Some Walmart workers who have joined the picketing have been warmly welcomed.
“I built my business with working people,” Marv Koppen, owner of Party Time Liquors in St. Paul told WCCO-TV April 12, “and when they go on strike I have never taken a delivery.”
“I’ve expected this for years,” Flohaug said. “We have been pushed back so much. Now they have pushed too hard. Safety is a question facing all workers and we need all the support we are getting.”
Send messages of support or contributions to Teamsters Local 792, 3001 University Ave. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414. Email: www.teamsterslocal792.org.