Brewery Workers Resist Concessions

by Barry Weisleder

Call it the growing gap.  Actually, chasm might be a more apt term to describe the breach between workers’ aspirations and what most union leaders are willing to do to fight the concession demands of the boss class.  Helping to close that chasm is the Canadian Union of Brewery and General Workers’ Local 325. 

The workers at Molson Coors Beverage Company in the north Etobicoke suburb of Toronto voted 208 to 69 on February 17 to reject the firm’s latest demands.  That was after 17 weeks of heated negotiations.  No talks have occurred since their lock-out on February 18.

The multinational drink and brewing company, headquartered in Chicago, was formed in 2005 through the merger of Molson of Canada, and Coors of the United States.  In 2016, Molson Coors acquired the full global brand portfolio of Miller Brewing Company for approximately US$12 billion. The agreement made Molson Coors the world’s third largest brewer at the time.

What do the owners want from workers at their profitable Toronto complex?  They want to entrench a two-tier wage structure that was introduced in 2010.  It caps new hires at 84 per cent of the previous wage scale.  Employees with up to ten years’ experience would continue to be paid 16 percent less for doing the same work.  In addition, the company aims to transfer all but the most senior employees from a defined-benefit pension plan to a defined-contribution plan, which puts pensions at the mercy of the stock market.  On top of that, the bosses want Molson workers to accept a health-destroying, family-wrecking job schedule of 12-hour days, three days a week, just to avoid paying 8-hours a day workers for overtime.

Because they said NO to this infernal set of concession demands, the courageous workers at CUBGW Local 325 were locked out.  Instead of brewing beer they are burning wood in barrels on the picket line at 33 Carlingview Drive, 24-7.

At a time when growing numbers of young workers strive for anti-capitalist change, but wonder where is the union leadership so sorely needed, the brewery workers offer an inspiring example.  They are fighting concessions, rooted in the capitalist agenda where the bottom line is profit maximization.  For this example of working class resistance to flourish, it is crucial that labour activists make a priority of solidarity with the locked-out Molson Coors workers.  Small victories can lead to bigger ones when unions take the path of putting the movement back into the labour movement.