Union workers at a local brewing facility have approved a contract proposed by management, a spokesman said, ending a monthslong standoff between the two parties.
The employees’ three-year contract with the Memphis Blues City Brewery location was unanimously approved last Tuesday, said Zachary Townsend, vice president for the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union southern region.
The union secured what it sees as a series of victories, including doing away with a two-tiered wage system in which newer workers would be capped at a lower pay rate.
Union officials had alleged the company was trying to stall negotiations to run down the clock; if a union doesn’t secure a contract within a year of workers voting to unionize, employees will get a second chance to vote on the issue. Townsend had said he believed management was trying to replace workers with those less sympathetic to a union.
A representative for the brewery previously denied that claim, saying they had been negotiating in good faith and expected to reach a contract soon. A spokesman for the brewery was not immediately available for comment.
Both sides agreed last week, Townsend said, and all union employees voted in favor.
“We’re going to be able to bury the hatchet, hopefully, and work together to try to make things better,” Townsend said.
In addition to negotiating a consistent wage rate for all employees, plus yearly pay increases, Townsend said the union secured safety and diversity training victories as well as the right to investigate complaints on behalf of workers. Employees will have some additional personal days, Townsend said.
Union officials met with management last week for more than an hour before a walkthrough of the facility, Townsend said. It was the first time they were allowed to walk through the plant since workers voted in favor of unionizing last December, he said. Officials were able to see the facility and talk with employees.
The union will be dropping the majority of the charges they’ve brought against the brewery to the National Labor Relations Board, except one case involving what the union says was an unlawful termination of an employee who was engaged in union activities. But Townsend said the company has expressed interest in settling that charge as well.
The majority of the charges related to the fact that the union couldn’t investigate complaints, so “now that we have a contract, we have a grievance procedure,” Townsend said. “We’re the sole bargaining unit for the employees, so we have a right based on labor law to go in there, so it’s not an issue anymore.”
The union also has plans to discuss the facility’s “points” system, in which employees who essentially receive demerits are subject to various punishments, up to termination.
About 800 workers are employed at the brewery, which produces, packages and distributes beer and hard seltzer. 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, Tuesday marked the 50th day of striking for Kellogg’s employees, who are also members of the BCTGM. Those workers left work Oct. 5 in protest of a two-tiered wage system and what they say is forced overtime. The company said Tuesday it would begin to hire permanent replacement workers. On Wednesday Kellogg’s officials announced talks would resume Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.