Beer truck drivers strike for safe routes, respect on the job

Members of Teamsters Local 792 picket outside J.J. Taylor, a beer distributor in northeast Minneapolis, on the first day of an open-ended strike.

One of the Twin Cities’ largest beer distributors could have trouble restocking area retailers, restaurants and bars this week after 93 drivers began an open-ended strike today, taking a stand for safety, dignity and respect on the job.

The drivers, members of Teamsters Local 792, accuse Minneapolis-based J.J. Taylor Distributing Company of ignoring their concerns over a new routing system that compels more drivers to load and deliver heavy kegs on their own.

Previously, the company assigned a driver and a helper to designated “keg-only routes.” Now, almost every route involves keg deliveries, and not all are staffed with helpers.

“They’re redoing all their routes and making it so these guys are going to get hurt on the job,” Local 792 Secretary-Treasurer Larry Yoswa said.

The issue has been a sticking point since negotiations began in January and continued past the previous agreement’s Feb. 28 expiration date. Teamsters twice voted down “last, best and final” offers from the company, neither of which addressed their safety concerns. Additionally, a new commission system proposed by the company would threaten Teamsters’ earnings, Yoswa added.

Pickets went up at 5 a.m. this morning outside J.J. Taylor’s terminal at 701 Industrial Bouldevard NE in Minneapolis. But the real test for the company will come tomorrow, when its weekly beer-delivery routes begin.

Strikebreakers were visible from the picket line today, and Yoswa said the success of the strike likely will depend on if management “can find anyone to drive trucks and deliver beer.”

“That’s one of the problems we’ve had,” Yoswa said. “We can’t get drivers. Drivers are going out to look for work elsewhere because the work is too hard and the money isn’t there.”

Striking workers pledged a show of force on the picket line tomorrow morning, and they welcomed support from the labor community.

“Swing by, honk for the guys, drop off coffee – whatever you can do,” Yoswa said. “The more people that can give us some solidarity and help these guys out, we’d appreciate it.”

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