March 6, 2016 – While Canadian whisky lovers were celebrating at Friday night’s Winnipeg Whisky Festival, the men and women who make one of Canada’s most celebrated whiskies were voting to go on strike 55 miles north of Winnipeg. Members of United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Local 832 walked off the job Saturday morning at Diageo’s Crown Royal Distillery in Gimli, Manitoba after contract talks reached an impasse. According to Local 832 president Jeff Traeger, 98 percent of his members voted in favor of the strike. In a statement posted on the local’s web site after the strike began, Traeger expressed hope that the two sides can get back to the bargaining table and hammer out an agreement.
“Our members go to work every day with the mindset that they are making the world’s greatest whisky. The membership believes that if the company put the same effort into this round of bargaining we wouldn’t be on strike,” Traeger said in the statement. A Diageo statement provided to WhiskyCast said the company’s last offer included a 4.5 percent pay raise over the three years of the contract.
“We are disappointed with the result of the vote and the decision by the union to proceed with a strike as we believe that the offer made by Diageo was a fair one. The Company’s offer included wage increases of over 4.5 % over the course of a three-year collective agreement, together with pension, benefit and vacation improvements. Diageo is committed to the negotiations process and we hope that the Union will decide to return to the bargaining table soon. We have robust business continuity plans in place, and we do not expect the work stoppage to affect our ability to supply Crown Royal Canadian whisky to the market.”
The union wants more money along with better health and welfare benefits and increased vacation time. The two sides narrowly avoided a strike three years ago with a last-minute deal, but the increased popularity of Crown Royal and Canadian Whisky in general has union leaders optimistic they can get a better deal this time around. Last November, Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye was named “World Whisky of the Year” by the Whisky Bible, and also was honored in the 2016 Canadian Whisky Awards in January.
While the union workers in Gimli are responsible for distilling and maturing Crown Royal, blending and bottling takes place at Diageo’s facility in Amherstburg, Ontario, just south of Detroit. That plant has had its own share of labor disputes in recent years, but workers in Amherstburg are represented by Unifor Local 2098, not UFCW Canada.
WhiskyCast has also contacted union leaders for more information, and this story will be updated as necessary.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a statement from Diageo.