Teamsters subdue Bud-InBev

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Militant union cuts the cost-cutting Brazilians down to size

Too seldom are we able to report that an American union faced with a critical problem developed a sound strategy and flawlessly executed it to win a major victory for its members. This is however the case with the campaign of the Brewery and Soft Drink Workers Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to protect its members faced with the acquisition of Anheuser Busch by the global brewing giant InBev.

On October 3 the Teamsters announced that the Conference, the national bargaining committee, and all Teamster locals involved in negotiations with Anheuser Busch unanimously recommended the ratification of a five-year contract that met all of their major goals in protecting the jobs and benefits of Teamster members at Anheuser Busch. The key feature is a contractual commitment to keep all 12 U.S. breweries operating during the term of the agreement. The proposed agreement also provides for substantial wage and pension increases, while protecting health and welfare benefits for employees and families.

The agreement is the result of a well constructed campaign that included member mobilization, patient bargaining and a substantial component of international solidarity from unions representing InBev workers throughout the world. Brewery union leaders from Canada, Belgium and Brazil, in coordination with the IUF, met with Teamsters in St. Louis to plan strategy and participated in a large public support and solidarity rally.

The Teamsters Brewery Conference is employing a similar strategy as it opens negotiations with SABMiller, InBev’s major competitor as a global brewing giant. The Teamsters represent 1200 members at three SABMiller breweries in Eden NC, Fort Worth TX and Irwindale CA. Contract negotiations began at the Eden plant on October 7. Union leaders from IUF-affiliated SABMiller brewery unions in South Africa, Poland and Peru are touring the Eden brewery this week and meeting with local union representatives from all three U.S. breweries represented by the Teamsters. Negotiations at the other two breweries commence over the next several months. The Teamsters expect that a major bargaining issue at all three breweries will be the cost of health benefits, which SABMiller is seeking to shift onto the employees.

In the past American unions too often invoked assistance from foreign unions only after they encountered major obstacles in organizing or bargaining with a TNC. The leadership of the Teamsters Brewery and Soft Drink Workers Conference understands that international labor solidarity is not a vague slogan or concept, but an integral component of any organizing and bargaining campaign within a global company. International solidarity is not a magic button to push and positive results cannot be guaranteed, but it can provide a useful supplement to the union’s grassroots strategy.


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