October 15, 2016 – Union employees at Beam Suntory’s two Kentucky distilleries have walked off the job after their contract expired at midnight. The strike by members of the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 111D affects the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont and the Booker Noe Distillery in Boston, and comes after rank and file members rejected the second tentative agreement in a week. Friday afternoon’s vote was 174-46 to reject the agreement, which was an improvement on Tuesday’s 201-19 vote but still shows widespread dissatisfaction among workers.

In a statement provided to WhiskyCast by a UFCW executive in Washington, Local 111D president Janelle Mudd outlined the union’s ongoing issues in the talks:

“This afternoon, hard-working and dedicated members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 111-D voted on a tentative agreement that was reached by the negotiating committee and management. The vote was 174-46 to reject it and go on strike at midnight October 14th

“We are committed to ensuring that no worker and no member of our union family struggles alone.

“The main issues that we are hoping to resolve are protection of seniority, job security, clear contract language, and improvements in safety. Most importantly, we are seeking a better work/life balance and a return to the family values and heritage upon which the Jim Beam brand is based. All of us work hard and have earned and deserve a better life.”

Knob Creek is one of the many Bourbons produced at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, Kentucky. Photo ©2016, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.

Knob Creek is one of the many Bourbons produced at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, Kentucky. Photo ©2016, Mark Gillespie/CaskStrength Media.

Earlier this week, Mudd cited an “atmosphere lacking respect” for workers at the two distilleries while not providing specifics. The union represents 230 workers at the two distilleries, which produce all of the whiskey for Jim Beam and Beam Suntory’s other Bourbon and Rye whiskey brands, including Knob Creek, Booker’s, Basil Hayden’s, Baker’s, and Old Grand-Dad. Jim Beam is the world’s largest-selling Bourbon brand, and the strike not only affects distilling, but bottling operations at the Clermont distillery. Beam Suntory has other bottling facilities in Kentucky, but workers at those sites are not represented by Local 111D.

Beam Suntory executives have declined interviews on the strike, but issued this statement Saturday morning:

“Jim Beam has implemented comprehensive contingency plans to keep operations running at its Clermont and Boston, Kentucky distilleries in view of the vote by its unionized workforce to go on strike after midnight tonight.  The decision came after the hourly workers at these facilities voted down a revised contract proposal that had been unanimously endorsed by the union leadership after intensive negotiations in recent days with the assistance of a federal mediator.

“Our valued team members in Clermont and Boston voted down a revised contract negotiated in good faith all day yesterday and agreed to with union leaders,” said David Hunter, chief supply chain officer for Beam Suntory. “As a result, we have no choice but to implement our contingency plans to help ensure the continuity of our operations and supply of our products for our distributors, customers and consumers. Given our inventories and contingency plans, we currently do not anticipate shortages of Jim Beam or any other products made at these facilities.  We hope that these team members will reconsider the attractive terms offered and ultimately support the proposal.”

The revised proposal addressed union concerns in areas including overtime and temporary workers, and also included wage increases.”

Beam Suntory announced Saturday afternoon on Facebook that it will keep the American Stillhouse visitors center at the Jim Beam Distillery open during the strike, though tours will be modified to skip the distillery and the adjacent micro-distillery. The visitors center staff is not represented by Local 111D, but the union does represent workers who lead tours through the micro-distillery and custom bottling line adjacent to the main distillery.

This story will be updated with additional information as necessary.

Editor’s note: This story was updated with information on Beam Suntory’s plans to keep the Jim Beam American Stillhouse visitors center in Clermont open during the strike. 

Links: Jim Beam | United Food & Commercial Workers