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Jim Beam distilleries workers walk off the job, strike over 'family values and heritage'

By Eric DuVall
Jim Beam distilleries workers walk off the job, strike over 'family values and heritage'
Bottles of Jim Beam bourbon roll down a conveyor belt at the company's distillery in Clermont, Ky. Workers at the facility and another in Boston, Ky., went on strike Friday after rejecting the company's last contract offer. Photo courtesy Beam Suntory, Inc.

CLERMONT, Ky., Oct. 15 (UPI) -- Workers at two Jim Beam distilleries in Kentucky voted to go on strike Friday after they failed to reach a new contract agreement.

The workers said the owners of Jim Beam, the Japanese-based Beam Suntory, Inc., failed to address workers' issues related to job security and seniority, among other issues. Workers at facilities in Boston and Clermont, Ky., overwhelmingly rejected Beam Suntory's final contract offer Friday, setting the stage for Saturday's walkout.

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Beam Suntory said the company will undertake "contingency plans" and will continue to operate the two facilities. A spokesman declined to tell The Wall Street Journal whether those contingencies call for the use of nonunion replacement workers. The company said it does not expect any shortages of Jim Beam or its other bourbons, including Knob Creek, as a result of the strike.

Jannelle Mudd, president of the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 111D, told the Journal that Jim Beam workers deserve a better standard of living than what the company offered in its new contract.

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"Most importantly, we are seeking a better work/life balance and a return to the family values and heritage upon which the Jim Beam brand is based," Mudd said. "All of us work hard and have earned and deserve a better life."

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Jim Beam is the top global brand of Kentucky bourbon whiskey, a growing force in the international spirits industry. Globally, sales of American whiskey have increased 26 percent since 2010. Beam Suntory purchased the brand in 2014 with the hope of boosting sales in Japan, where American whiskey is becoming a popular choice.

Beam Suntory said its most recent contract offer included concessions for higher pay, overtime and the use of temporary workers.

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"Our valued team members in Clermont and Boston voted down a revised contract negotiated in good faith all day yesterday and agreed to with union leaders," said David Hunter, chief supply chain officer for Beam Suntory. "As a result, we have no choice but to implement our contingency plans to help ensure the continuity of our operations and supply of our products for our distributors, customers and consumers. Given our inventories and contingency plans, we currently do not anticipate shortages of Jim Beam or any other products made at these facilities. We hope that these team members will reconsider the attractive terms offered and ultimately support the proposal."

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