ST. JOHN’S — The union representing about 50 striking Labatt workers in St. John’s is urging the public to boycott the brewery’s products.
Carol Furlong, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE), said late Friday morning that with billions of dollars in annual profit, Labatt Brewing Company and its parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev shouldn’t be seeking concessions from workers in Newfoundland and Labrador, who have been on strike for two and a half months.
“After years of loyal service, these workers are faced with massive concessions, not only during their working career, but into retirement as well,” said Furlong at a news conference at the union’s headquarters. “A small group of workers in Newfoundland and Labrador have been targeted by the goliath multinational company.”
Lana Payne, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, joined in the call for a boycott of the company’s products, including, Labatt Blue, Alexander Keith’s, Blue Star, Budweiser and Kokanee.
“We are respectfully this morning asking for the support of Newfoundlanders and Labradors. We ask that they join with us in solidarity in our boycott,” said Payne, who said the strike was about workers’ decision to resist what she called “the race to the bottom” in the company’s demands, including asking workers to train their replacements — “strikebreakers,” she called them — in the event of a walkout. Working people are being squeezed at a time when companies make record profits but supposedly find it difficult to find skilled labour, she added.
“This is not a case of needing concessions. This is a case of corporate greed,” she said.
Wade Keller, Labatt spokesman, said a boycott — happening as summer approaches, the most profitable time of year for beer producers — would, ultimately, hurt not just the company, but many others including the workers.
“The union should be very concerned. If people stop drinking our beer, they may not start again after the strike is over, and if that’s the case, we won’t need as many workers,” he said. “The union should also be concerned about other people that a boycott could affect, such as distributors, store workers, bar staff, people who work in festivals and people who benefit from those festivals. A boycott can affect a lot more people than just our company.”
Neither side would discuss specifics in the company’s offer or concessions demanded. Union negotiator Chris Henley said the union has been through several negotiating sessions with a conciliator present.
“Labatt has not changed its position,” he said. “The employer hasn’t changed its position since the onset. The major concessions they put on the table at the beginning of negotiations are still there. Their first offer has been their only offer.”
Keller said the company has collective agreements similar to its current offer at many of its other breweries.
“We believe workers at all of our plants in Canada should basically be treated the same,” he said. “It’s not clear to us why NAPE thinks that people at the St. John’s brewery should be treated differently. We’ve signed similar collective agreements in Creston (B.C.), Edmonton, Halifax, and so far NAPE hasn’t been willing to negotiate.”