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Beerworkers Archive


Post date: 04/01/2011 - 21:50

Moosehead workers approve new seven-year deal

SAINT JOHN - More than 170 Moosehead Breweries Ltd. workers are back in the beer-making business after a nearly six-week lockout that hinged on a dispute over post-retirement drug benefits.

Members of the Brewery Workers Local 362 voted 77 per cent in favour of the new seven-year contract on Wednesday night.

SAINT JOHN - More than 170 Moosehead Breweries Ltd. workers are back in the beer-making business after a nearly six-week lockout that hinged on a dispute over post-retirement drug benefits.

Members of the Brewery Workers Local 362 voted 77 per cent in favour of the new seven-year contract on Wednesday night.

"Overall it's a good deal for our employees for sure," said Jeff Stoddard, president of the local. "There was some anxiety amongst a certain group of employees ... A big part of it was they don't quite understand what we've done."

Under the new contract, all current employees who retire within the next seven years will keep their full post-retirement prescription drug benefits - a sticking point in negotiations.

Workers not eligible to retire will receive enhancements to their retirement savings plan, which they will use for prescription drugs starting at age 65.

Future employees will contribute to a new joint retirement savings plan that will be used to pay for drug benefits, Stoddard said.

"It's kind of like an RRSP pension system, except this used for health care," he said. Talks broke down on Feb. 20 because the company wanted workers to pay $30 of the total $100 monthly fee for post-retirement prescription drug benefits for future retirees, company spokesman Joel Levesque has said. The union did not want to budge because it considered those health benefits a trade-off after taking several wage freezes in the past.

Operators will see a 6.5 per cent wage increase over the life of the contract, with tradespeople receiving a 7.5 per cent increase. Stoddard said he considers the "modest" increases fair in a tough business environment. Andrew Oland, president of Moosehead, said he was pleased the tentative agreement passed, bringing negotiations to a successful conclusion.

"This was a complex issue and I applaud the hard work by both negotiating teams," he said Thursday in an interview.

He said he was proud of the some 138 non-unionized workers, including marketing managers and accountants, who continued to churn out beer during the dispute. Production did not get behind, he said, with regular overtime shifts expected as the factory gets back into full swing.

There were only one or two troublesome incidents on the picket lines over the lockout, Oland said. The seven-year deal is important because it provides stability and allows for business planning, he said.

Stoddard said he still believes the same result could have been achieved without a work stoppage, but he was inspired by the resolve of the workers, who picketed 24 hours a day outside the Main Street West brewery. "To be out there in the fifth and sixth week, and to hold your head high and do what you did for six weeks, it's amazing," he said.