February 16, 2024

Teamsters ousted at Dr Pepper Wisconsin, face off against Anheuser-Busch


The Teamsters have been ousted from representing a group of beverage drivers in Wisconsin while a much larger strike in the beverage world looms.

The union also ended a strike against U.S. Foods in recent weeks with a contract that even the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a group within the union that is often critical of elected leadership, hailed as a victory. 

The events occurring in such a short period of time are testimony to the fact that the largest union representing transportation workers swings back and forth between victory and defeat. 

And while there have been more victories than defeats of late, the ouster of the Teamsters by three separate groups of workers of Keurig Dr Pepper in Wisconsin was notable in that it was coordinated across more than one facility. 

Votes to decertify the Teamsters have tended to come at individual facilities, like the vote last year to oust the union at the Miami area warehouse of XPO Logistics (NYSE: XPO), the site of the first contract XPO signed with the Teamsters.

The National Right To Work Committee, which works alongside workers looking to decertify existing unions, said workers at drivers and warehouse workers in Oshkosh, Eau Claire and Tomah voted late last month to decertify the Teamsters at those facilities. The vote was not close, 48-20.

What’s notable about the decertification is not just that it occurred at three locations but that the union had been in place for many years, according to Ray Cotts, a Keurig Dr Pepper worker who began the process that led toward decertification. 

Union decertification often takes place among workforces where a representation vote is followed by a lengthy unsuccessful negotiations to produce a contract. Union critics will often cry that decertification votes occur after management drags its feet in negotiating a contract, and then rank-and-file workers see their paychecks shrink due to union dues deductions without any benefits to show for it.

But that was not the case in Wisconsin, according to a statement released by the Right To Work Committee on Cotts’ behalf.

“Local 200 has been representing us for the entire 20 years I’ve been working here, and in that entire time, we’ve had four contracts,” Cotts said in the statement. “All four have been poor. Constantly getting five-year contracts, which are of no benefit to us employees. Poor vacation, poor pay, subpar benefits, no real job protections. Our contract wages were way below standard for our industry.”

That defeat is set against a landscape for the Teamsters that would otherwise be leaning toward successes, but with a big battle coming soon.

The Teamsters wrapped up 2023 — the year it signed a new deal with UPS that consensus held was a big win for the union — with several smaller contract and representation victories.

Celebrating a deal at a big food processor

After a strike, the Teamsters recently signed a new contract at food distributor US Foods (NYSE: USFD). The strike, which began in early January and lasted roughly three weeks at the company’s warehouse outside Chicago, eventually saw sympathy picket lines go up at other US Foods facilities.

Details of the contract were not available. But when the end of the strike and the new deal were announced, the union said it had “achieved significant wage increases, enhanced health benefits, improved pension contributions, and critical safety measures — all without any concessions. In addition, US Foods has retracted its proposal to weaken the standard for terminating our drivers for accidents.”

The normally critical Teamsters for a Democratic Union said of the contract with US Foods that the company had “agreed to significant wage increases, enhanced health benefits, higher pension contributions, and enhanced safety measures. Members gave up no concessions and defeated a company demand to make it easier to fire drivers for accidents.”

US Foods did put out a public statement about the deal, saying it was a five-year agreement. The contract “build[s] on the highly competitive offerings drivers in Bensenville, Ill., currently receive, and includes safety enhancements aligned with the very high priority the company places on associate safety.”

Victory at a Ryder unit

The Teamsters also recently won a small representation election at a unit of Ryder System (NYSE: R). 

According to a National Labor Relations Board posting, workers at the Perrysburg, Ohio, facility of Ryder Integrated Logistics voted in late January to be represented by Teamsters Local 20. The vote was 23-11. (The workers affected total 41. Vote totals can differ from the number of eligible workers due to some workers not voting.)

The NLRB summary of the vote described all the eligible workers as drivers.

A Ryder spokeswoman said Ryder Integrated Logistics is part of the company’s Supply Chain Solutions segment but can also provide dedicated transportation services through Ryder’s Dedicated Transportation Solutions segment. 

The spokeswoman said the company has about 3,700 union members out of 31,900 hourly employees. They are organized by the Teamsters as well as the International Association of Machinists and the United Auto Workers. 

A potentially huge strike at Anheuser-Busch

The next big showdown for the union is coming at Anheuser-Busch, where a strike has been authorized by the workers after the current contract expires March 1.

So far, the two sides cannot agree on whether negotiations are even ongoing; according to a news report from a television station in St. Louis, the headquarters city of Anheuser-Busch, the company says talks are occurring, but the union says they are not. (A page on the company’s website devoted to the Teamsters negotiations does not provide a recent update on the state of negotiations.) 

Anheuser-Busch says there are more than 5,000 Teamsters members employed by the company in the U.S. Not all are drivers; workers in the breweries are Teamsters members as well.

Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien, never one to mince words, said in a recent statement that a strike at Anheuser-Busch’s refineries appears “imminent and unavoidable.”

“This company has got to get its priorities straight,” O’Brien said in a posting on the Teamsters website. “With its actions during negotiations this week, Anheuser-Busch made clear it is hellbent on destroying American jobs. They can throw billions of dollars at Super Bowl ads and Wall Street, but they can’t seem to bargain a contract that respects the Teamsters who do the real work inside these breweries. They have a harsh reality awaiting them when Anheuser-Busch breweries are empty, and Teamsters are on the streets.”

More articles by John Kingston

Teamsters celebrate NLRB decision in STG Logistics, see path to greater unionization

Drivers oust Teamsters at Home Depot subsidiary in California

A first for Werner: Small group of workers votes to unionize


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