Anheuser-Busch forces Teamster strike

RIVERSIDE, Calif.  - The Anheuser-Busch-owned beer distributorship in Riverside, Calif., wanted to implement its own business model - we're talking money, folks - but apparently forgot the Teamsters represent its 120-person workforce.

The result? Bargaining broke down and A-B, now a subsidiary of a Belgian brewer, forced Teamsters Local 166 to strike.

The conflict between Anheuser-Busch and the Teamsters in Southern California is not the first faceoff between the union and affiliates of the big brewer. In St. Louis, A-B's hometown and headquarters, local distributors of Busch beers - though not the brewery itself - spent months trying to hire non-union truckers to haul cases of Busch beer. Anheuser-Busch took a hands-off position against calls to intervene.

In Riverside, negotiations on a new contract began in April and Busch negotiators, who dance to the tune of the fairly new owner, In-Bev, mistakenly thought the Teamsters had to roll over, too.

The company wanted to do away with the traditional hourly pay rate for drivers, warehouse and mechanics and force a straight base and commission plan.

The members weren't buying it and the Teamsters were forced to strike on June 25. They've been picketing 24/7 since then.

"The company reps are basically no-good, rotten, piles of dung," Local 166 Secretary-Treasurer Mike Bergen said in a milder moment. "They turned down federal mediator assistance, never moved in negotiations and apparently borrowed the blinders from Budweiser's Clydesdales."

Bergen said the company's recalcitrant, divisive posture is counterbalanced by the 120 strikers' solidarity and resolve.

"Never in all my years in the Teamsters have I seen a stronger, more motivated group of strikers who care about each other and the integrity of their jobs," he said.

Bergen said a second stumbling block in negotiations was retirees' medical coverage. Retirees never had co-pays before and now the company wanted to block any new retiree coverage under any conditions once a new contract was ratified and implemented.

Paul Mihalow is editor of The Southern California Teamster.