8/11/08

Teamsters in global tactic v. InBev

Related story: "Bud war looms: Hoffa v. InBev's Carlos Brito"
More A-B/Teamsters stories: here

Corporate officials pay lip service to Hoffa

The prospective sale of Anheuser-Busch Cos. to a Belgian company has for now mostly receded from the headlines, but behind the scenes the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, representing most of A-B's brewery workers, is readying for a tough fight ahead.

Contract negotiations between Anheuser-Busch and its 8,000 Teamster-represented workers in St. Louis and at 11 other U.S. plants are slated to begin Aug. 18. Two days before that, Teamsters from Anheuser-Busch plants, political figures as well as union leaders from Brazil, Belgium, Canada and elsewhere plan to converge on St. Louis.

"We will be there, because we deal with InBev and we've got to tell the American workers that we're together and we don't intend to let them suffer from the acquisition," Robert Bouvier, Montreal-based president of the 125,000-member Teamsters Canada, said Tuesday.

The rally, set for 1 p.m. Aug. 16 at Kiener Plaza, has three goals, union officials say:

• To signal a tough stance in negotiations. The Teamsters' contract expires at the end of February.

• To show the eventual owner that the union is unified and plans to forcefully represent its members.

• To meet with representatives of overseas unions to coordinate strategy.

"We don't want labor problems, but we're also going to be a force to be reckoned with," said Mike Burke, president of 1,200-member Teamsters Local 6, which represents brewery workers in St. Louis.

Anheuser-Busch Vice President Gary Rutledge said he expects A-B to begin "a constructive dialogue with Teamster leadership later this month."

Union leaders in other countries who have dealt with InBev report tough labor practices, contentious union-management relations and strict cost-cutting measures.

Nina Devlin, a spokeswoman for InBev, said the company is "very committed to unions, to union jobs. …"

In a July 17 letter obtained by the Post-Dispatch, InBev CEO Carlos Brito told Jack Cipriani, who directs the Teamsters' Brewery and Soft Drinks division, that InBev "couldn't agree with you more that the Teamsters and the Anheuser-Busch employees play an instrumental role (in A-B's success) and it is our fervent hope that they will continue to do so."

(stltoday.com)

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