Pending Labor Dispute Threatens to Halt Alcohol Deliveries to Puget Sound Stores, Bars and Restaurants on St. Patrick’s Day
(SEATTLE) – In contract negotiations with its employees last week, Columbia Distributing, the Pacific Northwest’s largest distributor of beer, wine and liquor products, abruptly walked away from the bargaining table after insisting that workers pay more for their health insurance and accept dozens of concessions that would destroy workers’ job protections. Columbia’s drivers and warehouse workers, who are represented by the Teamsters, may be forced to go on strike as a result.
“At the Company’s request we agreed to a one-year contract extension last February to allow Columbia to get a few operational issues worked out and to demonstrate to their workers that there was to be a shift to a management team that took care of its’ workers. When we came back to the table this year, Columbia decided to return the favor by trying to jam almost 100 different concessions down our members’ throats,” said Rick Hicks, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 174, which represents 360 drivers and warehouse workers at Columbia Distributing in Kent, Wash.
Hicks continued, “We’ve done everything in our power to avoid a strike, while Columbia has done everything in its power to provoke one. The company has abandoned its legal obligation to negotiate with us at the bargaining table, so at this point it looks like the next time we’ll see them is on the picket line.”
Columbia has hired John Payne, an attorney with Seattle firm Davis Grimm Payne & Marra—which is notorious for advising companies to enter into brutal, protracted labor disputes. In the case of a labor dispute at Columbia, stores, bars and restaurants that currently sell products distributed by Columbia will be left with few options.
In counties throughout the Northwest, Columbia is the exclusive distributor of nearly 2,000 different products in an extremely regulated industry.
“If a grocery store in King County wants to sell Coors Light, for example, they have no choice but to buy from Columbia,” said Michael Gonzales, Sr. Business Agent at Local 174. “Multinational breweries, which dominate the market, along with the wineries and distilleries, many of which are located out of state, are the ones that make the decision to use Columbia. The local stores, bars and restaurants have no choice. Unfortunately, in a labor dispute, the local businesses will bear the brunt of the costs when they’re not able to sell their customers the products they want.”
Because of how regulated the industry is, Columbia is almost guaranteed a hefty profit, which begs the question why they’re putting so many people’s livelihoods at risk by provoking a labor dispute.
“We’ve done everything we can to avoid a strike,” said Hicks. “Now it’s up to Columbia’s customers, including the consuming public, to put enough pressure on their favorite beverage makers to tell Columbia to resolve the issue without a strike. Then maybe Columbia will come to its senses. Columbia workers, however, have no choice but to prepare for the worst.”
Columbia Distributing distributes Coors, Miller, Heineken, Mac & Jack’s, Georgetown, Pabst, Corona, Modelo, Pacifico, Victoria, New Belgium, Deschutes, Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, Fremont, Full Sail / Session, and more than 1,800 other alcoholic products throughout the greater Puget Sound area.