September 18, 2018 – With the next round of talks between Four Roses Distillery and its striking workers not expected until at least Friday, the Kirin-owned distillery has issued a statement outlining its position on what union leaders have referred to as a “two-tier” benefits package for new workers.
53 members of the United Food & Commercial Workers and the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers/SEIU walked off the job September 7 after rejecting the distillery’s final contract offer. UFCW Local 10D represents operations and maintenance workers at the distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, while UFCW Local 23D represents operations and maintenance workers at the distillery’s Cox’s Creek maturation and bottling facility. NCFO/SEIU Local 320 represents five workers in Lawrenceburg who operate and maintain the distillery’s boiler and water treatment systems. Union leaders have consistently indicated that they will reject any contract proposal that treats new employees differently from current ones.
In the statement, Four Roses executives indicated that their proposal never included a “two-tier” wage plan with lower pay scales for new workers. Their plan proposes to change the sick leave policy for new workers to remove the ability to “bank” unused sick days from year to year. Current employees receive ten sick days each year, and can carry over unused days up to a maximum of 60. The distillery’s proposal would replace that for new hires with short-term disability insurance that would take effect after an employee’s annual sick days are used up and last until long-term disability benefits begin.
According to the statement, the distillery offered that same package to the unions for current employees, but withdrew it after union negotiators insisted on keeping the current system, which does not include short-term disability coverage.
“We agree that the new hires would not receive the same sick leave benefits as current employees, but we believe the new hires’ program is better, not worse. Now, a current employee who has insufficient sick days in the “bank” has nothing to rely on until long term disability benefits start. New hires will never find themselves in that situation. So, we gave current employees what they said they wanted, and new hires something different, but, we think, better.”
The company also dropped a proposal from its final contract offer to change vacation time for new employees to a maximum of five weeks after 25 years of service, while keeping the limit at six weeks for current workers.
WhiskyCast has requested interviews with Four Roses executives since the strike began, but the company has declined saying that it has “tried not to conduct negotiations in the media,” but wanted to correct “inaccuracies” in several media reports.
UFCW Local 10D president Jeff Royalty says the company’s statement doesn’t address the problem his members could face if they accepted the new proposal. In a telephone interview, Royalty noted that the current sick leave plan pays employees for a full 8-hour work day, while the short-term disability plan would only pay them 50 percent of a day’s pay after that sick leave is used up.
“Essentially, I would have to be on short-term disability for 120 days to even break even if I had the 60 days banked,” he said. He also said the proposed system could cause problems for an employee who uses up all ten days following an injury and then gets sick later in the year, since short-term disability insurance is not designed to cover a brief absence of just one or two days.
Royalty hopes the Friday negotiating session will lead to a tentative agreement. “I’m losing money personally every day I’m on the picket line, and so is Four Roses…a strike is no good for either side, but it’s just one of those things that has to be done from time to time,” he said.
This story will be updated with additional information as necessary.
Editor’s note: We have made the complete Four Roses statement available to read at the WhiskyCast web site.