I didn’t delve too deeply into labor issues in Fermenting Revolution. But I’m now doing research for a book on coffee, an industry with a history of slavery and other labor abuses that continue to this day. I’ve also been approached by a publisher about writing a more overtly political, rather than environmental, book about beer. So, as I sit here on vacation at the beach with my extended clan, labor is on my mind. Here are a few nuggets regarding beer and coffee unions.
Many people know that Coors has a long history of union-busting. It finally ended in 1987 when the AFL-CIO reached an agreement calling for a union election. But Coors faced new boycott threats as recently as 2002. Coors’ parent/partner company Molson is currently embroiled in a union dispute regarding the planned shuddering of their Edmonton brewery. The company is planning the shutdown in order to crush an ongoing strike there even though it was ranked the number one brewery of the company’s ten operations.
Anheuser-Busch has been the target of multiple boycotts over the years, including one as recent as late 2005. Last summer, 1500 teamsters at SABMiller struck over health care disputes. Yuengling Brewery in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, the nation’s oldest brewery, is owned by a notoriously conservative family who financially supports republican political candidates, is also a known union-buster and is currently the object of a teamsters boycott.
Starbucks, the world’s largest specialty coffee retailer, is virulently anti-union. In 2004, several workers were fired for attempting to organize. Lawsuits and settlements ensued although Starbucks has admitted no wrongdoing. This past January, company Chairman Howard Schultz was quoted by the Seattle Times as saying: “If they had faith in me and my motives, they wouldn’t need a union.” I guess that means they don’t have faith in you Howie.