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J.J. Taylor responds to Twin Cities Teamsters' call for beer boycott

Local Teamsters are asking drinkers to skip more than a dozen beers for now. Management at J.J. Taylor says that's not necessary.

Local Teamsters are asking drinkers to skip more than a dozen beers for now. Management at J.J. Taylor says that's not necessary. Jay Boller

Striking Twin Cities beer truck delivery drivers have picked up a few famous supporters. 

In the past few days, their picket line has been joined by DFL U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, and DFL U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum.

DFL U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, who is seeking the party nomination in this year's governor race, issued a selfie-style message of support, thanking the drivers of Teamsters Local 792 for fighting for workplace safety.

"I am grateful," Walz says, "and all workers should be grateful for your focus on this."

The safety issue boils down to the Teamsters' claim that J.J. Taylor, the company on the other side of the negotiating table, wants to force drivers into solo delivery routes that would require the unloading of dozens of kegs. Many of those, Teamsters political director Ed Reynoso notes, would have to be dropped off downstairs in Twin Cities bar and restaurant basements.

The roughly 100 drivers on strike have called for Twin Cities drinkers to show solidarity by boycotting 14 beers (and two wine coolers, if you're into that), which bars and liquor stores have been getting from replacement (or "scab") drivers since the strike started April 13.

Management at J.J. Taylor, meanwhile, claims the Teamsters only seized on workplace safety as a more palatable secondary issue. In a statement to City Pages, Christopher Morton, president of J.J. Taylor Minnesota (the company's headquarters are in Florida), says the underlying fight isn't about protecting rank-and-file workers, but protecting seniority. 

Morton goes on to say the picket line -- which he calls "street-theater distractions" -- and the call for a selective beer boycott are unproductive, and dragging "local breweries and retailers into the middle of an issue that belongs at the bargaining table." 

The two sides have not met to negotiate in close to two weeks.

Read Morton's full statement below.

For more than 30 years, J.J. Taylor Distributing of Minnesota has been safely delivering beer throughout the Twin Cities and the surrounding areas.
The company has an outstanding safety track record- significantly below OSHA averages for the industry. Moreover, J.J. Taylor is one of less than a dozen beer distributors- out of hundreds nationwide- to employ full-time ergonomics and physical therapy specialists on-site. These specialists pro-actively address employee wellness and safety.
The delivery practice being cited as an issue by the union is nothing new or unique. Single-man keg lifts are common and can be done safely with proper technique. In fact, J.J. Taylor has already been using these routes in practice here for more than a year without issue.
Local 792 created their safety issue only after they put up a picket line to justify a strike based on seniority and work rule issues, rather than safety.
J.J. Taylor already does and will continue to staff routes with two-person crews based on safety considerations and volume; not based on a driver’s seniority.
As part of our safety commitment, we have refused delivery to retail establishments that we deem unsafe for our employees.
By calling for boycotts and using street-theater distractions, the union puts local breweries and retailers into the middle of an issue that belongs at the bargaining table with good-faith negotiations. Yet despite the challenges the union is placing on our other employees, our brewers and retail customers, we remain committed to operating.