PM-Anheuser-Busch-Teamsters, 1st Ld-Writethru, a0503,0536
ST. LOUIS -- Union workers at Anheuser-Busch have again rejected a national contract offer but say they will continue trying to negotiate rather than strike the nation's largest brewer immediately.
Teamsters leaders said today they would ask the company to return to the bargaining table to settle points that they say are holding up passage of a work contract for 8,000 brewery workers across the country.
Workers at 12 breweries turned down a second contract offer Thursday. According to union officials who tallied ballots, 54 percent of Teamsters who voted rejected the company's proposed five-year pact. In April, a much higher percentage, 77 percent, voted against virtually the same offer.
The latest vote, cast by mail like the previous one, was tallied Thursday by union officials in Washington.
Union leaders -- at least one representing each of the 16 locals -- met after the votes were counted and agreed to ask Anheuser-Busch leaders to resume negotiations, said Roger Newell, a Teamsters spokesman.
Company spokesman Steve LeResche said today that the union had not yet approached management about another meeting. He declined to comment further. In the past, company officials have said they would meet again with the union if asked but would not renegotiate the contract offer issued in March. Negotiators have sought to clarify its points in meetings since then.
Union members already have authorized a vote to strike, but Newell said they would remain on the job as long as efforts were being made to resolve the contract impasse. The last contract expired March 29.
The company has said it would continue to operate all 12 of its breweries in the event of a strike. A national strike against the maker of Budweiser and other popular beers would be the first since 1976, when workers stayed off the job for 13 weeks.
Money wasn't the sticking point. Under the pact that was rejected, an average worker would have earned nearly $60,000 a year. But the union objected to a proposed elimination of weekend premium pay and changes that union officials contended would have created part-time instead of full-time jobs.
The company has acknowledged that at least 600 full-time jobs would be eliminated under the proposed contract, mostly through attrition.
William Rammes, the brewer's chief negotiator, said the closer vote this time suggests significant division among the union membership.
"A large number of our employees support contract ratification and don't want a strike," Rammes said.
Anheuser-Busch operates breweries in St. Louis, Baldwinsville, N.Y.; Cartersville, Ga.; Columbus, Ohio; Fort Collins, Colo.; Houston; Jacksonville, Fla.; Los Angeles and Fairfield, Calif.; Merrimack, N.H.; Newark, N.J.; and Williamsburg, Va.