J.J. Taylor–MN president Christopher Morton and Teamsters’ Ed Reynoso outline contract agreement to end seven-week strike

Local Teamster 792 strikers outside of J.J. Taylor in NE Minneapolis, Minnesota // Photo via Local Teamsters 792 Twitter

Local Teamster 792 strikers outside of J.J. Taylor in NE Minneapolis, Minnesota // Photo via Local Teamsters 792 Twitter

The nearly seven-week strike by 93 members of Teamsters Local 792 against distribution company J.J. Taylor Distributing Company of Minnesota came to an end late Thursday, May 24, 2018.

According to a tweet from Teamsters Local 792, the contract between the striking employees and Minnesota’s largest beer distributor was overwhelmingly ratified: “all along it was about our right to a safe work environment and that is exactly what we won.”

Edward Reynoso, political and communications director for Teamsters Joint Council 32, the umbrella organization for all Teamsters in Minnesota, echoed this sentiment when we spoke to him the afternoon of Friday, May 25. “No one wanted a strike and we’re happy to get back to work,” Reynoso said. “We didn’t win everything, but we won our right to safety.”

The strike began on Monday, April 9, after the Teamsters Local 792 members and J.J. Taylor failed to ratify a new contract when the previous contract expired at the end of February. The two parties were in negotiations since the first week of April, when 93 delivery drivers and warehouse workers rejected the company’s proposed offer. The union cited safety concerns over proposed changes to delivery routes that would require all drivers to deliver a mix of kegs and packaged beer as the reason for the strike.

“Our main concern was one person having to carry 175-pound kegs up and down outdated, narrow staircases,” Reynoso says. “We never had a problem with the other delivery system changes they [J.J. Taylor] wanted to put in place,” referring to the company’s implementation of more flexible, dynamic routes, “and it was never about seniority, like they say it was. Our main concern was a driver getting stuck with a bunch of kegs and having to navigate old staircases in downtown Minneapolis.”

J.J. Taylor president and general manager Christopher Morton’s takeaway from negotiations was a little different. “We’re not out to hurt people by any means,” he says. “A lot of their [the Teamsters’] comments were spin about workplace safety; that was never part of the negotiations whatsoever—that’s just public spin. It really came down to protecting seniority. So we granted a few recommendations from them at the end to get these guys back to work.”

The terms of the settlement, as told to us by both Reynoso as well as Morton, include a few measures. First, Teamsters will get a 9.7 percent raise. It’s not the 10 percent raise that was originally offered to them, but “we’re still comfortable with it,” Reynoso says. The routes will all be fully dynamic, meaning kegs and cases will be shifted as needed in order to more effectively execute deliveries and balance out loads. The company and union also came to a verbal agreement that “heavy” routes and routes that are classified as what Morton calls “high-danger accounts”—accounts requiring the delivery driver to traverse stairs, for instance—will be two-person bids. “Every route’s a single-person route, same as it was, and we’ll deploy help on routes where it’s needed,” Morton says. “If one route seems a little heavy—whether it’s a combo route, which would be keg and case, or if it’s a case-only route—we’ll put the help where it’s needed.”

As for the workers, all 93 delivery drivers and warehouse workers who went on strike will still have a job, if they want it. So will the 40-some permanent replacements J.J. Taylor hired in the striking employees’ absence. (The company also hired temporary security and delivery workers from crisis management company Huffmaster to supplement their workforce during the strike.) “We plan to keep them on even after the striking employees return on Tuesday, May 29,” Morton says. “We will not be letting those guys go. That was our commitment, from John Taylor, the owner. We’ll find spots for everybody; we’ll just run a little heavy for a while.”

The Local Teamsters 792 members who went on strike on April 9, 2018 // Photo via Local Teamsters 792 Twitter

Both Reynoso and Morton acknowledged they aren’t sure how many of the 93 striking employees will show up on Tuesday. “A lot of guys had to find other work to fortify their income during the seven weeks,” Reynoso says, adding that the union was able to supplement part of the strikers’ salary using their $163 million strike fund, but not all of it. “We’re happy to get back to work. We want the company to be successful, and we look forward to working with the company to regain the trust of our customers that was lost during the strike.”

Morton echoes this sentiment. “We’re very happy to have these guys back. We had a disagreement, but we worked it out as any family does,” he says. “There are a lot of good guys that are union members. They’re our employees, and it was time to bring them back to work. Two months is long enough.”