Strike protests Portland beer distributor’s illegal behavior

Photo by Mallory Gruben

By MALLORY GRUBEN

At 2 p.m. April 10, about three dozen members of Teamsters Local 162 at Maletis Beverage walked off the job to protest bad faith bargaining by their employer. The strike happened after a push by the company and some coworkers to weaken the union, strikers said.

Maletis is one of the largest beer and wine distributors in the Pacific Northwest. It distributes Anheuser-Busch products and craft beers, ciders, and wines from Ecliptic Brewing, Ninkasi Brewing, Pelican Brewing, Portland Cider Company, Bota Box, and others to bars, restaurants, and grocery stores in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington. Local 162 represents about 140 drivers, warehouse and sales employees at a facility in Portland’s Swan Island Industrial District. Another 35 workers in Vancouver are represented under a separate contract by Teamsters Local 58. 

Maletis workers have had a union contract for more than 75 years. But Local 162 says Maletis has been engaging in “surface bargaining” — going through the motions without intending to reach agreement. For example, the company has proposed replacing the union’s fully funded pension plan with a 401(k) despite knowing that a recent amendment to the Teamsters’ international bylaws prohibits members from voting on agreements that would eliminate their pension, a striker told the Labor Press. Maletis also has tried to negotiate directly with individual workers instead of with their union representatives as the law requires. Those allegations were submitted to the National Labor Relations Board April 5. 

Photo by Jamie Partridge

Maletis was not immediately available for comment as this edition went to press April 18. 

A striker told the Labor Press that at least two workers in line for management positions have circulated a decertification petition, though they haven’t garnered buy-in from other union members. Several others, mostly from Maletis’ sales department, submitted letters to Local 162 asking to withdraw from the union. 

Maletis has posted a workplace memo threatening to stop withdrawing union dues from workers’ paychecks, known as dues checkoff. The NLRB currently requires companies to honor any dues checkoff arrangements set under the most recent agreement. 

“The disturbing thing about this company is they are making a lot of money. They are doing very well,” said Local 162 President Mark Davison. “For them to want to take advantage of the union, it’s union busting.” 

Around 7 a.m. April 11, after 17 hours on strike, workers hand-delivered an offer to return to work without conditions. That may have come as a surprise to the company, which had hired strikebreakers from Huffmaster Crisis Response in preparation. Huffmaster is the same Michigan-headquartered strikebreaking specialist that Mondelez-Nabisco employed in 2021 when bakery workers struck in Portland, Virginia, Illinois, Colorado, and Georgia. 

Maletis also quietly contracted with a third-party company for transport drivers that pick up product from breweries and bring it to Maletis for distribution. That contract was forged before the strike, while union-represented drivers were working full time, one striker said. 

“It was a real punch in the gut, what we did to them,” Davison said. “They had already started trying to staff their operation. They had already brought in some strikebreakers.” 

Davison said Maletis managers left workers to wait in the rain for almost 90 minutes as they deliberated how to respond. As interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, federal labor law says employers can’t permanently replace workers who strike to protest their labor law violations. Strikers went back to work, and Maletis stopped outsourcing the transport driver jobs, but the Huffmaster security crew stuck around for a few more days, one striker said.

According to one striker, nearly half of Maletis union members walked the picket line at some point of the 17-hour strike, but about one in 10 crossed the picket line. 

Between workers who scabbed on their own strike and outside strikebreakers, Maletis was able to complete most of its grocery store routes April 11, the day of the strike. However, multiple bars and restaurants reportedly missed deliveries. Deliveries were caught up and back on schedule by the end of the week. 

The union plans a public awareness campaign in the coming weeks with a billboard truck denouncing Maletis’ bad behavior. 

3 Comments

  1. Les Stephens is incorrect. It takes a few simple Google Searches to find out the ownership and management of this company. A few more you can find their family government ties, to the agency that is supposed to govern this company. Shame on you Les.

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