Talks between the Bond Distributing Co. and union leaders of Brewery Workers Local 1010 have broken off, and 93 beer truck drivers and warehouse workers on strike since Aug. 11 appear to have lost their jobs.
Norman R. Buchsbaum, a labor attorney for Bond, said the company has hired workers to permanently replace the strikers and cannot by law fire them to give the jobs back to the union members, even if other issues in the strike are settled.
The news, given to union leaders during negotiations Tuesday, prompted the union to immediately suspend talks, said union President Ray Machlinski.
The workers initially went on strike to protest a new distribution system the company had planned.
Now the central issue for the union is the workers' jobs, Machlinski said.
"They told us they were going to keep them [the replacement workers] on a permanent basis. Of course, we cannot accept that," he said.
The union is demanding that the strikers be allowed to return to work when the strike is settled.
Buchsbaum said the strikers would be allowed to apply for their jobs and may be hired when openings occur.
He said the workers have only themselves to blame for
the loss of their jobs, given that their union called a strike with just eight hours' notice.
But Machlinski said that Bond is undermining the union's bargaining power.
"They're taking away the American worker's right to strike," he said. "It's a threat to our livelihood."
So far, the strike against Bond has been relatively peaceful. Although some rock-throwing incidents were reported early in the strike, it has been relatively calm during the past week.
But news that workers had lost their jobs apparently caused tensions to rise yesterday.
City police said a Bond truck was halted by a group of protesters at Broadway and Thames streets late this morning as it attempted to make a delivery. Although the group shouted at the driver and blocked his way, he was not injured. Police were called, the protesters dispersed and the driver made his delivery.
It could not be learned whether the protesters were union members.
Rather than return to the negotiating table yesterday as had been planned, Machlinski said, the union is stepping up efforts to organize a boycott of Bond. Union members have handed out leaflets asking retailers to refuse to buy beer from the distributing company.
Bond distributes Coors, Miller, Molson and Rolling Rock beer to retailers in Baltimore and Baltimore County.
Machlinski said some of the retailers have joined the picket lines at the southwest Baltimore distributor, but Buchsbaum said the boycott is having no noticeable affect on sales.
Machlinski said the strike against Bond would not affect the union's negotiations with Winner Distributing Co., another major beer distributor in town. Although Winner and Bond had been negotiating jointly, the union struck against Bond only. Negotiations with Winner are to resume Monday. The union represents about 130 workers at Winner.
Originally, the issues in the strike involved a new distribution plan that would require drivers to work four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days. Workers are also upset about the company's proposed changes to the duties of truck drivers.
Under the former contract, drivers earned commission on sales in addition to a flat salary.
However, a new proposal would change that system to a "pre-sales" arrangement that would widen the use of other sales representatives, thus eventually reducing the drivers' commissions.
Buchsbaum said the company had had no difficulty in finding workers to replace the strikers, given the difficult economic times.
This summer the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that would prohibit employers from hiring workers to permanently replace striking employees, but the Senate has yet to vote on the measure.