October 23, 2016 – Workers at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, Kentucky and the Booker Noe Distillery in nearby Boston will return to work Monday morning after a week-long strike. Members of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 111-D voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new contract with Beam Suntory Friday. The new contract includes some wage increases, while largely resolving the key issue for union members – excessive overtime caused by the global boom in demand for the company’s Bourbon and Rye whiskies.
Union members complained during the strike that they were being required to work up to 80 hours a week, and one of their demands was that Beam Suntory hire more full-time workers to spread out the workload. The contract calls for Beam Suntory to hire 27 to 30 new full-time employees by July, 2017, and limits mandatory overtime to four hours per shift. Local 111-D president Janelle Mudd told the Louisville Courier-Journal that the company “really addressed everything we asked them to.” Mudd was unavailable for interviews this weekend.
Both distilleries remained open during the strike, with company officials implementing unspecified contingency plans to maintain whiskey production. In an emailed statement, Beam Suntory praised the resolution of the labor dispute that had received national attention:
“This outcome is good news for our people, our customers and fans of Jim Beam everywhere,” said David Hunter, chief supply chain officer for Beam Suntory. “The successful resolution of this matter resulted from constructive good faith dialogue with the union leadership, and valuable listening sessions with a broad cross section of team members. We developed solutions that include less reliance on temporary workers, better management of overtime, and a number of improvements to promote work-life balance. This contract builds on the values shared by our company and our workforce, and will help make these plants even better places to work.”
Suntory Holdings chief executive Takeshi Niinami was able to avoid questions about the labor dispute during a brief visit to Kentucky this week. During a speech Tuesday before the Japan/America Society of Kentucky, Niinami said the company plans to invest up to $1 billion to expand its Kentucky production facilities over the next five years as it grows its Bourbon business worldwide.