In The News
Miller-Coors combine affects union talks
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Seeking to light a fire under contract negotiations at Miller Brewery, the Milwaukee County Labor Council sent out an e-mail call Oct. 1 for members to join informational picketing by Brewery Workers Local 9 on Oct. 4.
Members of a dozen unions responded at the midday event, clogging the sidewalks outside Miller’s tourist center. Miller executives called in the mounted police to watch, but there were amiable exchanges among all. The police, after all, are union members who certainly understand contractual concerns.
UAW Local 9‘s three-year contract expired in early August but they have continued under those outdated terms while facing little response in months of negotiations.
In a walking interview during the informational picketing, Local 9 President Harry Shayhorn pointed out that the company seemed to have nothing to gain, except consumer skepticism, by moving so slowly.
Oct. 9 brought other reasons to actually speed things up and keep the Miller name positive among customers. The brewer is becoming part of a massive new merger.
South African Breweries announced an operational merger of Miller with Coors – each retaining brands for now but combining the nation’s second and third largest breweries and directly threatening the dominance of No. 1, Anheuser-Busch.
SABMiller and MolsonCoors will each own half of the new venture and expect in few years to save half a billion dollars in operational costs.
All six Miller breweries in North America are unionized. But that’s not true for Coors, headquartered in growingly Democratic but still union-resistant Colorado. That raises some troublesome future issues for Local 9 as well as OPEIU Local 35, whose members serve at the corporate headquarters, and other Miller unions.
The joint venture must clear anti-trust regulators and won’t be completed until next year – and it is still evaluating where to put its corporate control: here or in Golden, Col.
Previous issues and mergers in the beer industry have not been kind to Milwaukee. Miller has lost headquarters jobs before – in the mid-1990s because of a swoon in sales and three years ago after SAB purchased the operations.
It is unavoidable that the new merger will chop at least administrative jobs. The where is undecided. And there will be a learning curve for both the unions and for executives used to non-union attitudes.
Miller here has 500 workers in Local 9 and about 100 in Local 35 as part of a rough total of 1,700 employees. About 800 are in the corporate offices.
Peter Coors will be chairman of MillerCoors and SAB CEO Graham Mackay will be vice chairman. More of concern to Milwaukee workers, the new president, Leo Kiely, comes from MolsonCoors but intends to retire in a few years, and the successor being touted is Miller President Tom Long.
Local 9 is part of United Auto Workers and has been an active supportive affiliate of the MCLC, whose members were glad to return the favor Oct. 4 as part of the tourist center event.
“They were here for us, now we’re here for them!” shouted Jan Wilson during the information picketing, laughing that this time the weather was much nicer than the bitter cold her union experienced.
She was among the “Miller women” in OPEIU Local 35 who battled hard to retain a good pension, and she recalled how Local 9 had marched by their side during the troubles.
Among those spotted marching were members of the state AFL-CIO, USW, UFCW, AFSCME, IBEW and UAW at Master Lock and Delphi.