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Teamsters strike over safety issues, call for boycott of certain beers

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Strikers were picketing the J.J. Taylor distribution facility
Strikers were picketing the J.J. Taylor distribution facility in northeast Minneapolis, on May 4, 2018. They've been picketing there since the strike began April 9.
Jon Collins | MPR News

Some shelves in the beer cooler at Party Time Liquor in Maplewood are empty.

The store stopped accepting shipments from J.J. Taylor Distributing Company after the workers who deliver beer went on strike last month. Party Time owner Marv Koppen said he hasn't crossed a picket line in 38 years of business.

"My customers are very understanding, and we explained to them what's going on, and they're buying other products instead," Koppen said. "This is a blue-collar neighborhood, a lot of hardworking people here." 

The strike is now in its fourth week. Teamsters Joint Council 32 political director Ed Reynoso said the company wants to change delivery routes so that individual workers may have to unload dozens of kegs of beer by themselves each day. He said each keg weighs about 175 pounds.

"It's not about wages, it's not about benefits, it's purely about safety," Reynoso said. "Our contention is that it's unsafe. It's absolutely unsafe."

The union says 95 employees have been on strike since April 9, after union members rejected the company's final offer.

"These guys get paid well," Reynoso said. "But if you don't have the health to go with it, you can't go back to your family and be able to spend that money in good health, what good is it?"

J.J. Taylor director of human resources David Miller said the company is awaiting a contract proposal from the union.

"We were caught off guard," Miller said. "The safety issue is something that never came up throughout the negotiations process at all."

Miller said the company employs ergonomic experts to help keep employees healthy, and that they have a better safety record than other similar companies. Miller said the company was trying to avoid antagonism with the union.

On Friday morning, strikers were picketing the J.J. Taylor distribution facility in northeast Minneapolis, which they've been doing since the strike started. They held signs saying #NoWayJJ as trucks driven by replacement workers hired by the company drove in and out of the facility and security guards in fluorescent vests filmed strikers. 

The Teamsters Local Union #792 has called for boycotts of beers distributed by the company in the Twin Cities, including Summit Brewing Company, Miller Brewing Company and Schell's Brewery.

Some bars and liquor stores have also voluntarily stopped taking orders from the company during the strike. Koppen said much of his business at Party Time depends on selling kegs, which he requires two employees to load at his store to avoid injuries.

"The best way to resolve the strike," Koppen said, "is to have Mr. Taylor go out on the truck with these guys for a day and see what hard work it really is."

Miller of J.J. Taylor said the company delivers beer to around 3,000 establishments and said the boycott doesn't appear to have had much of an effect as of yet.