Teamsters end beer strike, credit ‘labor solidarity’ for keeping them strong

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J.J. Taylor drivers Adrian Wiegert (L) and Mark Hennum picket outside the facility with other members of Teamsters Local 792.

Beer truck drivers and helpers at J.J. Taylor Distributing in Minneapolis voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new contract last night, ending their seven-week strike.

Not one member of Teamsters Local 792 crossed the picket line during the strike, and all 93 striking workers will return to their jobs, as the company was unable to hire permanent replacements.

“I can honestly say I’ve never been a part of a group that looks out for each other like we did,” Darin Bakken, a helper with five years of experience at J.J. Taylor, said. “This is a very strong group.”

Larry Yoswa, Local 792’s secretary-treasurer, attributed the unity to broad community support. Several bars, restaurants and liquor stores refused to accept deliveries from J.J. Taylor during the strike, and a list of beers distributed by the company went viral on the internet with the hashtag #ratscabbeer, prompting many consumers to buy different brands.

This week, workers began passing out the fliers to fans on their way into St. Paul Saints games.

“One of the beer vendors … stopped at the picket line,” Bakken said. “He said what we did outside was huge. There were a lot of people who took a peek at that list before he could pour a beer.”

But the biggest source of strength, Yoswa said, was labor solidarity.

“Labor in this state was what really helped us stay out so long,” he said. “The locals of Teamsters Joint Council 32 stepped up big time. We had the nurses out here, the postal workers, all of the trades — everybody saw the news and got out here.

“That’s what kept them solid for seven weeks, knowing they had that kind of support.”

Yoswa characterized the new contract as a “bittersweet victory” for workers, who took a stand for safety on the job. The two sides were able to reach a compromise on union members’ top priority, keeping two workers on keg-heavy routes.

Bakken, who has worked for 20 years in the beer industry, said the trend toward increasing workloads is a dangerous one. “You can’t have one guy all alone handling all the kegs day after day, year after year,” he said. “You’re going to get hurt, and your career is done.”

Now, workers are looking forward to seeing the people on their delivery route again – especially the ones who stood with Teamsters in the fight. McDonald’s Liquor and Wine in Minneapolis, one of the stops on Bakken’s route, had an empty cooler where the Miller Lite display usually goes.

“That’s pretty damn cool that they’re standing up for us,” he said.

[CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE FULL LIST OF BARS AND LIQUOR STORES THAT SUPPORTED TEAMSTERS IN THEIR STRIKE FOR SAFE JOBS.]

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