Workers and allies wave signs along Airways Boulevard during a community rally last month. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

Ahead of a rally Friday, a union spokesman for workers at a local brewing facility says employees have been asking for a fair contract for eight months and allege that the company is stalling negotiations to undermine the union.

Workers at the Memphis Blues City Brewery facility voted to join The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union in December, said southern region vice president Zachary Townsend, but the company and the union have not been able to agree on a contract. The union is holding a rally Friday in conjunction with another group of BCTGM workers – striking employees at the Memphis Kellogg’s facility – to “call on the company to negotiate in good faith,” according to a press release. 

The union has been trying to negotiate a contract with the brewery since February, Townsend said. But the negotiations haven’t produced a contract, he said. He believes the company is trying to beat out the yearlong clock the union has before workers can vote to decertify the union. (After a year, if 30% of workers request a decertification vote, the National Labor Relations Board will hold an election. The union must receive a majority of votes in support or it will be decertified).

Townsend alleged the brewery has been trying to replace union-supporting workers, then threatened new employees that unless they vote to decertify, the company will close the plant. 

“We feel that they’re still trying to intimidate the workers so that they will just be quiet and let it go, and let them do what they want to do without a union,” Townsend said.

A spokesman for the brewery disputed the claim that the brewery is intentionally stalling negotiations.

“I have no knowledge of that,” said Brian Davis, human resources manager for the Memphis facility. “Our negotiations are progressing in good faith. We expect a reasonable agreement. We’re going to be back at the table on Tuesday of next week. We’re down to one last item to bargain over.” Davis said that “due to the ongoing nature of negotiations,” he couldn’t comment on specific details of the agreement.

Townsend said the final dispute is over wages, including implementing a two-tiered wage system, in which newer workers would be hired and capped at a lower pay rate.

The facility in Memphis is one of four run by City Brewery, which has plants in La Crosse, Wisconsin; Latrobe, Pennsylvania; and Irwindale, California, according to Davis. 

The union has also alleged the company has taken coercive action and engaged in other unfair labor practices in cases still being considered by the NLRB. Davis said the brewery couldn’t comment on the cases while negotiations are ongoing.

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Workers also allege unfair treatment by supervisors and unsafe working conditions, and the union wants the ability to investigate inside the plant on behalf of its members, Townsend said. 

About 800 workers are employed at the brewery, Davis said. The brewery produces beer and hard seltzer, packages the products and distributes them. At the end of 2020, employees made about $47,000 a year, on average, according to documents they filed with the city. They also employed about 130 contract workers, who made around $26,000 on average.

Meanwhile, negotiations between striking Kellogg’s workers and the company resumed Tuesday, but on Wednesday, the union rejected the company’s “last, best and final offer.” 


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