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Teamsters, beverage distributors reach contract agreements

By Paul J. Nyden

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Teamsters members have overwhelmingly ratified new contract agreements with three local beverage distributors, union officials said.

Workers at Capitol Beverage — which distributes Miller, Coors, Corona and several other products in Charleston, Parkersburg and surrounding areas — ratified their agreement on May 2. Also on that date, workers for Proud Eagle Inc. — which distributes Budweiser, Michelob Ultra, Sam Adams, Yuengling and other products to 12 counties from its distribution centers in Charleston and Parkersburg — ratified their agreement.

Drivers who distribute Coca-Cola in the Charleston and Logan areas ratified their agreement on April 27.

All three contracts include significant wage increases and protect members’ health and pension benefits, said Ken Hall, president of Teamsters Local 175, based in South Charleston, and general secretary-treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “While all three contracts had their own specific issues, the union and companies worked out deals that addressed those issues for both parties.”

The new contracts will keep the companies competitive, Hall said, and also “reward our members for their hard work which helps make the companies profitable.”

Jim Linsenmeyer, chief operating officer of Proud Eagle Inc., said his company and employees “negotiated a fair and legal contract that provides one of the best pay and benefits.”

“We have the best employees, who give the best service to our great customer base,” he said.

For many years, Local 175 leaders said, they amicably negotiated and signed new contracts with Central Distributing, before it was sold to Proud Eagle in 2008. Early last month, local Teamsters leaders said the new owners were taking a very different approach, including using “union-busting tactics.”

D. Paul Sommerville, a self-described “union avoidance expert” from Beaufort, South Carolina, was Proud Eagle’s lead spokesman until the company removed him from the negotiations.

Sommerville, who chairs the Beaufort (South Carolina) County Council, also works for SESCO Management Consultants in Bristol, Tennessee. Neither Sommerville nor SESCO officials returned telephone calls on Wednesday and Thursday.

“The first several negotiating sessions resulted in little to no progress,” said Ralph Winter, secretary-treasurer of Local 175. “However, once the company realized the members were going to stick together and would not give in to its unreasonable demands, it fired its labor consultant, withdrew its unreasonable proposals and negotiated a fair contract for our members.”

Linsenmeyer said he did not attend some of the early contract negotiating sessions with the union.

“But we just thought it was in our best interest to insert ourselves into the later part of the negotiating process. Everything worked out fine,” he said. “We had planned on having everything work out in the beginning and, in fact, things did work out.”

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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