Union members on fourth day of labor strike outside Four Roses

LAWRENCEBURG, Ky. (WDRB) -- Four Roses is in the middle of a bourbon battle. Monday is the fourth day of a labor strike at the distillery in Lawrenceburg and the bottling plant in Cox's Creek. 

More than 50 union members are on strike because of disagreements with the bourbon maker over new, possible five-year labor contracts. Four Roses was purchased by Japanese beer maker Kirin Brewery Company, Ltd. in the early 2000s. The strike started Friday afternoon.

"All we want is our fair share," Local 10-D president Jeff Royalty said. "These companies are going to have to be satisfied with $10 million profit and maybe not $11 million.

"We're not so concerned about what they've offered us, but what they're wanting us to give up for the next generation. A two-tiered system is like a cancer. In the short term, first year or two, you don't see much change. Five, six, seven years down the road, it eats away, it eats away, between the camaraderie of people that work together."

Union leaders say fair contracts for everyone involved, including new hires, are more important than ever before because of Kentucky’s new right-to-work law. The law gives employees in union shops the right to choose to participate in the union. 

"The strike is over a two-tier proposal that the company won't let up on, which is essentially changing the benefits for new hires," said David Suetholz, an attorney representing local 10-D. "What the company is trying to do is take away that ability to accrue sick days in case you have a serious accident or illness in your family, and they want to impose, instead, a short-term disability that pays a fraction of the benefit for new hires.

"If new hires are hiring into this facility, and they perceive the people that are here now having sold them out, agreeing to benefits that are less to them than active employees, then of course they would say 'Why would I want to pay union dues? Why would I want to be a participant?'"

The strike is happening at a time when thousands of bourbon fans from around the world are on their way to Four Roses. This week is the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival, and the distillery is holding a sold out event on Friday.

"There is zero work going on at the Four Roses facility," Royalty said. 

Work at the distillery has halted, but tours continue. Picketers at the entrance are trying to convince visitors to turn away. 

"If this is not resolved, I will also be there to make sure the public knows what's happening and why." Royalty said. 

It's also the 130th anniversary of Four Roses.

The company did not immediately answer questions but told a trade publication it will forge on with its events, and the strike will not impact production at the facility.

"If they're missing out on what you make today, you're not going to make that up," Royalty said. "Today is gone. After tomorrow, you're two days behind."

There's no word on how long the strike will last.

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