Strike is over at McDonald Distributing in RC

Union members on the picketing line outside the front entrance of McDonald Distributing.Photo by Jon Tatting
Union members on the picketing line outside the front entrance of McDonald Distributing. Photo by Jon Tatting

UPDATE: Drivers and helpers at McDonald Distributing Company in Rush City were back on the job Wednesday, signaling an end to the worker strike that began July 1.

“We’re happy that a resolution was reached and to get back to work,” said Bill Huth, general manager of McDonald Distributing.

Bill Reynolds, president of the Minneapolis-based Teamsters Local 792, said the company amended a previous offer to include the possibility of overtime and attempts to provide the drivers with more help on bigger orders, as needed.

Four individuals were replaced during the strike, he added, but they are on a preferential hiring list.

Tuesday, July 29:

Union members who work as drivers and helpers at McDonald Distributing Company in Rush City are almost a month into a labor strike that resulted from an impasse over a new contract.

While the 15 or so workers from the area have been picketing outside of the company’s entrance at 1255 S. Frandsen Ave. since July 1, their message reached the greater community via a pickup truck entry in the Chisago County Fair Parade.

“Most of the comments (from paradegoers) were positive,” said Lowell Hauff, of Rush City, a driver who’s been with the company for 18 years. “Some people we knew, but there was a lot of random support.”

In addition to his driving duties, Hauff serves as steward on behalf of the union members who work at McDonald Distributing, an Anheuser-Busch distributor that provides beer products including Budweiser, Bud Light and Michelob Golden Light Draft and non-alcoholic products, such as Monster Energy, Arizona Tea and Pop Shoppe Soda.

“The biggest issue we have is we were trying to get these guys more help,” said Bill Reynolds, president of the Minneapolis-based Teamsters Local 792, referring to a key part of the union’s proposal.

Hauff said the drivers get to the facility as early as 5 a.m. to build the entire order of individual accounts for the day and don’t start delivering until 8 or 8:30 a.m. One driver could have anywhere from six to as many as 18 stops, from minimal orders at convenience stores to 1,500 cases for liquor stores.

“There’s a lot of time involved in packing, itself,” he said. “You would get help if you had 600 or more cases, but not necessarily, and we were trying to get a little more of a uniform number that way, because sometimes you go out with a lot more than that.”

The job can be wearing on the body, as well, since it also involves stocking and displaying the product in sometimes difficult work conditions at convenience stores, liquor stores, bars and big box retailers across the state’s east central region. A variable of the bigger picture for the workers, along with fair compensation, the physical labor of the job falls under the main points that were proposed in the negotiating process.

“We went in with two issues,” Reynolds said. “One was for the drivers to get help (with an order) at 600 cases, and the second was to keep the health care at no increases; the same rate it was.”

Hauff added, “That really was our bottom line to it.”

Jim Huth, general manager of McDonald Distributing, offered the following statement on behalf of the company:

“McDonald Distributing is a good employer and provides good, high-paying jobs. Unfortunately, the Minneapolis union representing the company’s drivers and helpers called a strike back on July 1.

“The issues are not complex: The union wants more than the company is willing to give, even though the union has never disputed the fact that our drivers and helpers are already paid better than most teachers and most other folks in the community. The average driver last year made $66,690, and the average helper last year made $53,755. McDonald Distributing also annually contributes 6 percent of gross wages to drivers’ and helpers’ personal retirement fund, also known as a 401k.

“Each driver and each helper has had the right to decide for himself whether to honor the union’s picket line or come back to work. At this point, we are four weeks into the strike: One driver has retired, and at least one helper has reportedly taken a new job outside of town. We hope the strike ends soon, but in the meantime, the company is continuing to operate, and is hiring new replacement workers so that it can continue to provide top-notch service to its customers.”

Both sides last met with a federal mediator July 14, but an agreement could not be reached, Reynolds said.

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