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Teamsters authorize February strike at Anheuser-Busch

By Chris Isidore and Jordan Valinsky, CNN

New York (CNN) — About 5,000 Teamsters working at Anheuser-Busch voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if a new contract cannot be reached before the current one expires on February 29.

The union members, who work at 12 US breweries, represent more than a quarter of Anheuser-Busch’s US workforce.

“Our members’ labor, talent, and sacrifice are what put Anheuser-Busch products on the shelf, and we are committed to getting a contract that rewards and recognizes their hard work,” said Teamsters President Sean O’Brien. “If Anheuser-Busch’s executives can’t get their act together to negotiate an agreement that respects workers, we will see them out on the streets.”

The union said Saturday 99% of members voted to authorize the strike. Anheuser-Busch InBev said it was aware of the vote.

“We are committed to negotiating in good faith with the union to reach an agreement that recognizes and rewards the talent, commitment, and drive of our employees,” the company told CNN in a statement.

Strike authorization votes — and landslide votes in favor of a strike — are an extremely common part of labor negotiations, as unions send a signal their members are ready to strike if they don’t agree to a deal. But the overwhelming majority of labor contracts are negotiated without the union following through on strike threats. For example, the Teamsters union authorized a strike by about 340,000 members at UPS, but reached a deal to avert the walkout about a week before the August 1 strike deadline.

Strikes have become much more common in the last year. A database of US work stoppages by the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations shows in 2023 there have been 70 strikes by 100 or more workers lasting more than a week, which is up 59% from the number of those significant strikes for the same period of 2022.

The unions have found significant success in negotiations — both from those following through with strikes and those averting a walkout. Nearly 1 million union members won immediate pay raises of 10% or more in contacts reached in the course of the last 12 months, according to analysis by CNN, with most of those gains coming in the course of the last six months.

Many of those gains came at companies reporting record- or near- record profits and could more easily afford to meet union demands. Anheuser-Busch suffered a steep drop in sales during the course of the last year due to a controversy over its decision to use transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney in a social media promotion for its Bud Light brand, prompting a boycott from some conservatives.

Bud Light would subsequently lose its title as the bestselling US beer brand, and its overall US revenue per 100 liters, a key measure of beer sales, fell 13.5% in the third-quarter.

In July, Anheuser-Busch InBev responded by cutting its US staff by nearly 2%, or about 400 positions. The company said the layoffs would not include front line staff such as brewery and warehouse staff, drivers, and field sales, among others.” The 5,000 union members the Teamsters identified in its news release about the strike vote is about 750 fewer than the number of Teamsters employed under the Anheuser-Busch contract as of December 31, 2022, according to a company filing.

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This report has been updated with additional information.

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