LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The workers who produce Four Roses bourbon and the company will resume talks on Friday in hopes of ending a strike that began almost two weeks ago, a union official said.

Jeff Royalty, who leads UFCW Local 23D – one of three unions representing Four Roses workers – said the two sides will employ the assistance of a federal mediator.

Workers at the company’s Lawrenceburg distillery and Coxs Creek bottling plant have been on strike since Sept. 7 over what they call the company’s insistence on a “two-tier” structure with less generous benefits for new hires.

But Four Roses said in a statement Tuesday that it only wants to change policies regarding sick time and short-term disability – changes the company contends would be better for workers.

The company said it would accommodate the unions’ request to keep sick time policies unchanged for current workers.

“A claim that we are proposing a ‘two-tier’ sick leave policy that discriminates against new hires is not true,” Four Roses said in an unattributed statement. “We agree that the new hires would not receive the same sick leave benefits as current employees, but we believe the new hires’ program is better, not worse.”

The strike affects 53 workers who work between the two facilities earning $20 to $24 an hour, Royalty said.

The bourbon maker, a unit of Japanese brewer Kirin, said current workers lack short-term disability benefits but can build up a bank of up to 60 unused sick days. Employees get 10 sick days per year.

The company wants to prevent new employees from rolling over unused sick days from year-to-year and proposes giving them short-term disability benefits instead.

But while sick days pay a fulltime wage, the short-term disability benefits would be paid at 50 percent, Royalty said.

He said no matter the company’s “spin,” the proposal would treat new hires differently than current workers.  

“To me, that is the sole definition of two-tier,” Royalty said.

Royalty said the sick time changes are the main sticking point, but workers are also dissatisfied with the company’s proposed wage increases, which would amount to 1.3 percent, he said.

Four Roses did not address wages in its statement.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2018 WDRB News. All rights reserved.