BARDSTOWN, Ky. — Some 420 United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23D members are going into a fourth week of a strike against Heaven Hill Brands distillery bosses. Kentucky is the heart of the U.S. bourbon industry, and Heaven Hill is a $500 million operation, one of the top whiskey distilleries in the country.
The union and company met briefly Sept. 27 at the urging of a federal mediator. After just a few hours the company broke off the negotiations, Matt Aubrey, president of UFCW Local 23D, told the Militant Oct. 4. “They never said why and we haven’t heard from them since.
“The company wants to run the plant seven days a week, with no overtime pay for Saturdays, Sundays, or over eight hours,” Aubrey said. “This will take away time from our families.”
Heaven Hill is trying to implement a contract with language that allows them to force workers to work “nontraditional” schedules, including weekend work with no overtime pay. “We made an offer to consider allowing them to put new hires on the nontraditional schedule,” he said, but not those who already work there. “They didn’t accept that. They want to be able to schedule everyone for those hours.”
Strikers on the picket line say they’re ready for a fight. “I think we’re stronger than we’ve ever been now,” said Paula Clark, who has worked 29 years at Heaven Hill. “We’re getting all kinds of support from the community, other unionists and area businesses.”
Aubrey said the Teamsters, United Auto Workers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the Central Labor Council from Louisville have all come out to show their support and bring food, water and other material support. “We have so much water we had to rent a storage facility to put it in,” he said.
Many local bars and restaurants have taken Heaven Hill products off their shelves in support of the strikers.
Heaven Hill cut off medical insurance for all workers — including retirees — a week after the strike began. Medical bills are starting to pile up. Clark pointed to a young worker on the picket line with six months on the job. “His wife is about to have a baby and he has no insurance.”
Some striking workers, including one young woman who is pregnant, have gotten COVID, Aubrey said. “People are very upset about losing their insurance.”
The company has been running some production with temporary workers. Aubrey said one of the warehouse workers recently had an accident and lost three fingers. “They didn’t give them enough training and just threw them into these jobs.”
The fight is important for all workers in the industry. “Contracts are coming up for Four Roses, Barton’s and Jim Beam over the next couple years,” Aubrey said. “They are all watching this strike.”
The union picket lines are up 24/7 and strikers welcome all who want to join them or drive by and honk to show support. In the union tent near the distillery main gate on Loretto Road, you can pick up yard signs supporting the strikers, as well as T-shirts. Contributions to the strike fund can be sent electronically via Venmo to @ufcwlocal23d and messages of support can be emailed to [email protected]