busting at Coors everywhere in Texas outside Dallas-Fort Worth, Coors sales have continued to decline. But the boycott didn’t save the strikers from a major setback in mid-December. After many months of legal battling \(involving the union, the National Labor Relations Board, a federal district court employeesexcluding the strikers, but including workers hired to replace themvoted to decertify the union and thus end the strike. And it’sanyone’s guess whether Local 366 will be able to regroup. The battles began in 1976 when Coors eliminated the top three job classifications for plant employeesa move that, in effect, demoted 115 workers. These demotions had a trickle-down effect, until nearly 400 workers in all were affected, says David Sickler, an AFL-CIO field representative who worked in the Coors plant for 11 years and is now national coordinator of the boycott. The local union filed grievances with federal labor authorities and, in March 1977, a federal arbitrator awarded full back wages to the 115 workers originally demoted. Coors’s “ultimate arrogance,” recalls Sickler, was its defiance of that back-pay award. The union’s only recourse was to ask a federal district court to enforce the arbitrator’s decision and then to strike in April 1977. Local 366 didn’t strike only because of the back-pay dispute, though. Other issues were at stake: the effective abolition of employee seniority, forced physical examinations to find excuses to fire older workers, and “police-state tactics” such as on-the-spilt body searches and lie-detector tests, for example \(Obs., union complaints, the NLRB formally charged Coors with unfair labor practices shortly after the strike began. From what she’s heard, Desmarais says, those policies are still in effect today, now that the company “has what it wants: a full work force and no union.” Labor prac tices of other brewers aren’t like those favored by Coors. “I know people personally that work for Budweiser, Miller and Schlitz,” she says, “and none of these companies” treats its workers as shabbily as Coors. Sickler also points to brewery worker wages that are well below the industry average and to benefits offering only half the coverage common in the industry. The average hourly wage of a brewery worker last year was $8.43, but Coors paid only $7.99, counting a 6 percent increase that took effect in February 1978. This year the gap between the industry standard and the Coors wage is even wider. Budweiser, Schlitz and Miller are all settling with their unions this time around for $10.20 an hour, while Coors will be paying only $8.47 if it comes through with a scheduled 6 percent increase this month. What is there to the claim by Coors that its brewery workers average $21,000 a year, well above the industry average of $17,000? A lot of mandatory overtime, says Desmarais. From May to September each yearthe season of highest beer salesCoors institutes what it calls a “universal work week,” in which employees work for seven days straight before getting one or two days off. Each of those work days can last as long as 12 hours. But while she was putting in all that overtime at the plant, Desmarais remembers, she never earned as much as what Coors was calling its “average” salary. In May 1978, a year after the strike beganand before anything was settled regarding back paythe Coors management petitioned the NLRB for a vote among plant workers on union representation, knowing full well that, under the National Labor Relations Act, workers who were by then still on strike would be ineligible to vote. Some of the 1,472 original strikers had returned to work, but most had not. These Coors had replaced with strikebreakers. The strikebreakers included more women and members of ethnic minorities than Coors had ever before seen fit to hire. For years, chicanos had charged that Coors’s hiring and promotion practices were discriminatory. The company had also been in trouble with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for not hiring minorities, and a Coors personnel offiger cited the strike as a great opportunity to start taking on enough minority workers to meet the requirements. Management campaigned acti v ely among these workers, telling them they would surely be replaced by strikers if the union won the vote. The NLRB blocked the election, however, untiLthe dispute over back pay was cleared ‘up. Then, last October, .Coors agreed to pay $254,629 to the 115 demoted union members,_ thus clearing the way for a midDecember vote on union representation. Coors supervisors stepped up their propagandizing and began wearing buttons that read “Vote NoAsk Me Why.” Evelyn Desmarais says employees were told that “if they voted’the union out, the boycott would. end and that would eliminate the threat of layoffs because of poor sales.” Striking union members, some:’ of who had by then lost their cars and homes, were reluctant to campaign “among the scabs who had sold them out,” says David Sickler. “The most crushing blow of all for them was that their destiny was up to the people who had abandoned them.” Under those conditions, and with the strikers ineligible to vote, Desmarais says, “there was no way we could have won this election.” The vote count was 993 to 408 against the union. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27
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