Beer distributor goes on Unfair List

By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor

Should Budweiser remain the choice of the union beer drinker? Not in Portland, say leaders of Teamsters Local 162, who have been trying for 14 months to get a union contract for the workers who distribute it.

In the Portland metro area, including most of Multnomah, Washington, Columbia and Yamhill counties, Maletis Beverage is the distributor for four breweries—Anheuser-Busch, Red Hook, Widmer and Kirin. [Maletis also distributes to Clark and Cowlitz counties in Washington, but those workers are under a separate contract with Teamsters Local 58.]

Local 162 leaders say Maletis doesn’t pay family wages and is trying to cut back on health care, and that it hasn’t bargained in good faith. The company proposal includes a requirement that employees begin paying a monthly premium for health coverage — $35 for family coverage in the first year, rising to $90 in the fourth year. Meanwhile, benefit levels would be reduced, and co-pays and deductibles increased.

Local 162 Business Agent Phil Muter said other parts of the company proposal seem intended to weaken the union in the future: Maletis wants to eliminate the right of drivers to honor picket lines, end company deduction of union dues from workers’ paychecks, get rid of the requirement that all workers pay union dues, and change the grievance process.

A contract with similar terms was approved by about a dozen Maletis workers in Longview, who are members of Teamsters Local 58, but the company’s offer was rejected by the Portland workers in a March 15 vote.

Muter thinks Maletis may be hoping to repeat the 1998 union-busting success of Columbia Distributing Company, a distributor of Miller brand beers. Columbia chief executive officer Ed Maletis is from the same family that owns Maletis Beverage.

“We’re trying not to strike,” Muter said. “We don’t want to hurt our families.” Instead, the union hopes to increase pressure on the company in other ways.

On March 22, about 50 Maletis workers gathered at Holladay Park in Northeast Portland and marched, with support from members of Portland Jobs With Justice, down to the Rose Garden, where throngs of Blazers fans were arriving for that night’s game against the Houston Rockets. Teamsters began leafleting Blazer fans asking them not to drink Budweiser, Red Hook or Widmer Hefeweizen at the game. The leaflets also contained Blazers and Rockets player rosters, and a 10-question basketball trivia quiz.

Within five minutes of the Teamsters’ arrival at the Rose Garden, J. Isaac, Blazers’ vice president for business affairs, was on the scene threatening legal action if the leafleting didn’t immediately cease: In its listing of the players, the union had used the team’s name without permission, Isaac told Muter. Fans might think the unionists, who were wearing Teamsters jackets and asking people not to drink Budweiser at a Blazers game, were “representing” the Blazers. Would Muter kindly hand over to Isaac the stack of flyers in his hand?

“No, I will not,” replied the Teamster leader.

When the leaflets ran out, the workers went in, with Blazers tickets compliments of their union. The Blazers lost 85-93 to the Rockets. But the contest between the Teamsters and Maletis is still in overtime.

Earlier that day, the Northwest Oregon Labor Council (NOLC) Executive Board heard from three representatives of Teamsters Local 162; Maletis was invited to appear, and responded with a lengthy letter from company attorney Chandra Hatfield of Williams Zografos & Peck. Hatfield defended the company’s conduct, saying that it’s the union that is bargaining in bad faith, and citing a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) complaint against the union for bad-faith bargaining, which the union has appealed. Hatfield also pointed out that the NLRB has so far failed to back the union’s charge that Maletis isn’t bargaining in good faith.

The NOLC Executive Board found the Teamsters more persuasive, and voted unanimously to place Maletis on its Do Not Patronize/Unfair List. That means as long as Maletis remains on the list, local union members are asked not to buy beer distributed by Teamsters who are working without a contract. That includes the Widmer, Red Hook and Kirin brands, and the Anheuser-Busch brands Michelob, Budweiser and Busch.

Judy O’Connor, NOLC executive secretary-treasurer, said she normally drinks Budweiser, but has abstained since the dispute began with Maletis.

The Teamsters represent 7,500 Anheuser-Busch brewery workers, so the boycott isn’t against the brewer, but the distributor. Since the unit without a contract is based in Portland, NOLC’s Maletis boycott doesn’t extend to beers bought in Clark County or Clackamas County. But Muter said the Anheuser-Busch distributors there are non-union anyway, so it may be simpler for Portland-area pro-union beer-drinkers to steer clear of Anheuser-Busch for the time being. An alternative, Muter said, is Mt. Hood Beverage, which distributes the Pabst, Henry Weinhards and Miller brands throughout Northwest Oregon, and has good relations with the union.

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