Pickets to continue at Edmonton Molson brewery slated for closure: union

EDMONTON (CP) _ Striking workers at a century-old Molson Canada brewery will continue to picket despite the company's decision to shut the plant down, say union officials.

''The closure is for Aug. 31, so we're still going to keep the line and hopefully get more support,'' Garth Sanderson, president of Canadian Auto Workers Local 284, said Wednesday.

A total of 136 employees, 102 of them unionized, will lose their jobs. Many had tears in their eyes as they emerged from a meeting with company officials at a hotel where they talked about severance packages.

''There was a lot of venting because it's a shock,'' said Doug Smith, 50, who has spent 29 years with the company.

''We got nothing out of that meeting. It's all got to be negotiated with the union. We basically got no answers,'' said the burly man, his eyes moistening as he considered a lengthy career that's suddenly come crashing down around him.

Tully Lutz, 38, has worked at the Edmonton plant since 1991. He said there's a ''poison'' moving through corporate North America that is forcing lower wages on working people.

''People are going to be working for way less money down the road and not being able to live. All these guys are going to sit up in their mansions and play little Monopoly games with people. It's crazy,'' he said.

Relations with employees began to deteriorate, Tully said, after Montreal's Molson Inc. merged in 2005 with Adolph Coors Co. Molson Canada is now part of the Molson Coors Brewing Co. (TSX:TAP.B) based in Golden, Colo.

Daniel Pelland, the company's chief brewing officer, acknowledged it was a tough decision to close the plant and even tougher meeting with workers.

''There are a lot of questions about 'what's going to happen to me?' and 'I've been 30 years with the company' so we said: 'Look, those are the questions we need answered,''' he said.

It's now up to the union to negotiate details of severance agreements on behalf of the workers, Pelland said _ something he hoped would start as soon as possible.

Union officials said they are seeking legal advice on how to proceed with negotiations.

The Alberta Federation of Labour issued a statement in support of the workers.

''The American-based Coors Molson Co. is closing a profitable, efficient, award-winning plant with no consideration of long-term employees here in Alberta,'' said federation president Gil McGowan.

''So next time Albertans hear the ''I am Canadian' rant on a Molson ad, don't believe it. With the layoff of the last Alberta Molson workers, there is little reason for Albertans to drink Molson products.''

The company blamed the closure partly on the loss of a contract earlier this year with Foster's Group Ltd., a move that resulted in Molson Coors taking a US$24.6-million charge.

Another reason was a growing consumer preference for cans over bottles, said Pelland. The Edmonton brewery produced only the latter.

In Canada, about 65 per cent of the company's suds end up in bottles and 25 per cent in cans, but consumers are increasing the demand for canned brew _ especially in Western Canada, he said.

An impasse in contract talks with the union local in Edmonton and higher freight costs at the city's bottling plant also factored into the company's decision, Pelland said. Union members walked off the job May 30.

''It's always the balance about the location, freight and costs.''

Pelland said the company is not sending a message to the rest of its estimated 3,000 workers across Canada.

''We got some good relations with our other unions and we need to work with them to develop our plans to move forward,'' he said.

Foster's cancelled its contract with Molson Coors in May, saying demand in the U.S. market had plunged 33 per cent between 2001 and 2006.

SABMiller plc is replacing Molson Coors as the brewer of Foster's under a 10-year licence agreement starting in November.

Earlier this year, Molson Coors CEO Leo Kiely said cost-cutting efforts and synergies after the merger of Molson and Coors were expected to yield savings of $175 million in 2008.

Canadian Press Newswire, Wed Aug 1 2007
Byline: Lisa Arrowsmith

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.