Strike targeting beer distributor disrupts St. Louis deliveries

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- Union-backed workers for a St. Louis-based beer wholesaler have gone on strike as the Memorial Day weekend approaches, disrupting deliveries of Anheuser-Busch Cos. beers to retailers, taverns and Busch Stadium in the brewer's hometown.

Lohr Distributing Co. employees -- about 25 full-time workers and about a dozen who work as needed -- began their strike Sunday night, having worked without a contract since February, said Dan McCay, president of International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 600.

McCay said bargaining reached a stalemate over Lohr's demands that the drivers -- who mostly earn commissions based on how much they deliver -- pay higher health-care deductibles and accept lower commissions. No new talks were planned Tuesday.

Lohr distributes top-selling Budweiser, Bud Light and other Anheuser-Busch products within the city limits. Anheuser-Busch wholesalers outside of St. Louis proper are unaffected by the walkout.

Messages left Tuesday with Ron Lohr, the company's president, were not returned.

Consumers were being asked to boycott Anheuser-Busch products inside St. Louis' city limits as long as the walkout lasts, McCay said.

"The company wouldn't get off their proposals," McCay said. "We've done everything we could possibly do to avert this action. I think it's unfortunate we had to do it, and the only reason was because they painted us into a corner.

"If they're willing to take on a fight, they have one."

Teamsters leafletted outside Busch Stadium Monday -- the start the St. Louis Cardinals' six-game homestand that runs through Sunday -- as some worried whether the labor dispute would squeeze the ballpark's beer inventories.

Without elaborating, Lohr has told various media outlets that Busch Stadium would not run out of beer.

Messages left with the Cardinals were not returned Tuesday.

Various restaurants and bars served by Lohr say they don't expect the labor dispute to hurt their beer supplies, with some have stocked up in anticipation of a walkout.

At Carson's Sports Bar and Restaurant -- just six blocks from the Anheuser-Busch brewery -- owner Ron Dempsey said he has enough Anheuser-Busch supplies to get by for 10 days to two weeks, and on Monday he doubled his order, partly because of the approaching holiday. Whether those deliveries arrive in time is another question, he said.

"I think that in some way, shape or form Lohr or somebody will get us our beer," said Dempsey, 58.

In 2003, about 20 unionized workers at H.W. Herrell Distributing Co. -- the Anheuser-Busch wholesaler in Jefferson County, south of St. Louis -- struck for about two weeks. Sticking points included Herrell's push to move to a pay system based on deliveries, not hours worked.

During that walkout, Herrell hired temporary replacement workers to make deliveries.

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