UPDATE: Heaven Hill’s workers end six week strike Saturday, following tentative agreement

Heaven Hill says contract talks with striking union employees have hit an impasse.

UPDATE FROM OCTOBER 23, 2021: Today Heaven Hills workers voted to end their six week strike after a tentative agreement was reached yesterday on a new five year union contract.

UFCW Local 23D, the union for the Heaven Hill workers, announced that the new contract achieved key priorities such as preserving affordable healthcare, increasing pay, maintaining overtime provisions, and strengthening retirement security.

United Food and Commercial Workers is the union for over 25,000 Kentucky essential workers statewide as well as 420 Heaven Hill Distillery workers.

The workers had been on strike since mid-September over health care and scheduling issues

Update from October 22, 2021:

BARDSTOWN, Ky. (WTVQ/WHAS) – Heaven Hill said it has come to an agreement with its workers’ union, which has been on strike for nearly six weeks.

The Bardstown distillery released a statement saying Heaven Hill and UFCW 23D have reached a “tentative” agreement on a five-year contract.

Union members are set to vote on the contract on Saturday, Oct. 23.

Union members have argued that language in the current contract references traditional and non-traditional schedules that could require employees to work weekends. They believe the move would impact their families.

Leaders said they found the contract language unclear and worried it could lead to weekend work. Heaven Hill said no current employees would be forced to work a non-traditional schedule under the contract, and they have no plans to implement that type of shift.

The statement provided to WHAS11 did not indicate whether the contract language has changed. Heaven Hill said the UFCW 23D negotiating committee provided their “full recommendation” of the new agreement.

“The agreement continues Heaven Hill’s long-standing commitment to its team members with industry-leading health care, wage growth and increased schedule flexibility,” the statement says.

Heaven Hill said operations have continued under their contingency plan “with limited interruptions” and plans to produce, bottle, and ship their products.

UFCW Local 23D President Matt Aubrey released a statement on the tentative agreement as well.

“UFCW Local 23D has reached a fully recommended tentative agreement with Heaven Hill on a five-year contract,” said Aubrey. “With the strong support of the Bardstown community, these hardworking men and women have been standing together for more than a month to protect these good Kentucky jobs that their families have counted on for generations. Heaven Hill workers will make their voices heard tomorrow when they vote on this tentative agreement.

Update from October 18, 2021:

BARDSTOWN, Ky. (AP) – Declaring an impasse in contract talks with striking union workers, global spirits producer Heaven Hill said Monday it will start hiring permanent replacement workers for bottling and warehouse operations in Kentucky.

Union leaders responded that they’re willing to continue negotiations and accused the company of wanting to replace longtime employees with non-union workers.

About 420 members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23D have been on strike for more than five weeks They voted overwhelmingly last month to reject a new five-year contract offer and formed picket lines at Heaven Hill’s operations in Bardstown.

Family-owned and operated Heaven Hill produces Evan Williams, one of the world’s top-selling bourbons. Other Heaven Hill brands include Elijah Craig, Henry McKenna, Old Fitzgerald, Larceny and Parker’s Heritage Collection.

The dispute has revolved around health care and worker scheduling issues. The schedule dispute was a sign of the bourbon industry’s growing pains as it tries to keep up with increasing global demand.

Heaven Hill said in a statement Monday that it had negoiated in “good faith” with the union but the sides have been unable to reach an agreement. The company now will begin the process of hiring permanent replacement workers, it said.

“We’ve heard from our employees in the community that they are in favor of the proposed contract terms and eager to return to work,” said Heaven Hill President Max L. Shapira. “Given the long-standing and positive working relationship Heaven Hill has with its employees, it is disappointing we were unable to reach an agreement with union leadership.”

Local union President Matt Aubrey condemned the company’s latest move.

“It is stunning that Heaven Hill is refusing to continue negotiations and is resorting to hiring non-union workers to try to push out the hardworking Kentucky men and women who have worked at the company for generations and made it the success it is today,” he said in a statement.

He said the union is willing to meet with company negotiators to continue talks.

Aubrey accused the company of refusing to bargain in good faith, and said the union had filed Unfair Labor Practices charges against Heaven Hill with the National Labor Relations Board.

The company said its operations have continued with “limited interruptions” during the strike due to a “successful contingency plan.”

Workers often spend long careers at Kentucky bourbon distilleries, and the jobs often attract multiple generations of families. Disputes flare up occasionally, and other strikes occurred in recent years at Jim Beam and Four Roses — other iconic names in the bourbon sector.

The bourbon industry has been on a long upward trajectory.

Combined U.S. sales for bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and rye whiskey rose 8.2%, or $327 million, to $4.3 billion in 2020, despite plunging sales from bars and restaurants because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States reported early this year.

Kentucky distilleries produce 95% of the world’s bourbon supply, according to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

Original story below from September 29, 2021:

BARDSTOWN, Ky. (WTVQ) – A strike at one of the state’s largest bourbon distilleries is now in its third week with no apparent end in sight, despite the involvement of a federal mediator.

Some 420 workers at Heaven Hill distillery in Bardstown went on strike Sept. 11 after overwhelmingly rejecting the company’s new contract offer during a vote on Sept. 9.

The workers are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) which also represents some 25,000 Kentucky essential workers statewide.

According to the union, a federal negotiator urged the company to rejoin talks with UFCW Local 23D, the union for Heaven Hill Bardstown workers and the $500 million company met with workers and the union on Monday, Sept. 27. However, despite the federal negotiator calling for Heaven Hill to continue negotiations tomorrow, September 29, the company refused to return to the table, the union said.

UFCW Local 23D President Matt Aubrey released the following statement:

“Heaven Hill distillery workers are standing up for a fair contract that protects good-paying Kentucky jobs and keeps our economy and community strong. Heaven Hill is threatening good jobs in our community by proposing a contract that makes cuts to overtime and threatens to divide its workers with unclear and potentially unfair scheduling. For nearly three weeks these hardworking Kentuckians have been speaking out to stop these cuts and protect these Kentucky distillery jobs that have supported our families for generations.

“We have been overwhelmed by the strong support from local business owners taking Heaven Hill products off their shelves until the strike is over and are grateful to everyone standing with these Kentucky workers and their families.

“As the union for Heaven Hill workers, UFCW Local 23D has been eager to reach an agreement on a fair contract that supports good Kentucky jobs. We were pleased that Heaven Hill responded to the federal mediator’s call to return to the negotiating table and encouraged by the progress we made in discussions on Monday. We were disappointed to hear that Heaven Hill is refusing to continue negotiations tomorrow and urge them to reconsider.

“Our first priority is delivering a strong contract for these Kentucky workers. We are calling on Heaven Hill to work together with us now to help end this strike and make the critical investments needed to support good Kentucky jobs and keep our economy and community strong.”

UFCW Local 23D has been in negotiations with the company for six months and in July 2021, called for a federal mediator to join the process.

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