Sean O’Brien says the fight with Anheuser-Busch has only just begun.
The general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters stressed to more than 100 people from breweries across the country Friday that the union will not sign another contract filled with concessions.
O’Brien said the union demands pay increases, job creation and a commitment from the beverage company to provide union jobs for any employees who lose their positions because of new technologies.
“This negotiation right now is the most important fight that we can take on for far too long,” O’Brien said. “The members at Anheuser-Busch nationwide continue to give back. We are not going to give back this time. We are going to take what we deserve.”
Anheuser-Busch announced a $1 billion stock buyback program in October that will continue into next year. It reported $8.3 billion in gross profit during the third quarter that ended in September.
In a statement, an Anheuser-Busch spokeswoman said the company was aware of the Teamsters’ rally.
“Anheuser-Busch has a long-standing track record of reaching agreements with organized labor,” the statement said. “We look forward to continuing negotiations with the Teamsters to reach a mutually acceptable agreement that continues to recognize and reward our employees.”
Nearly 400 employees at Anheuser-Busch’s Jacksonville brewery in the Imeson Park neighborhood on the Northside are members of Teamsters Local 947.
Longtime union members told Jacksonville Today it was invigorating that the union’s general president visited.
Local 947 Business Manager Donny Connell has been a member for nearly 25 years. He said the leadership’s ability to ensure that all union members have the same health insurance package is an example of the gains it has made since O’Brien became general president in 2021.
According to the North Florida Central Labor Council, there are more than 23,000 union employees in the five-county Northeast Florida region. They are a diverse group that includes postal workers, teachers, dockworkers, electrical employees and more.
Teamsters from the 11 other Anheuser-Busch breweries in the country, as well as members from Local 512 based on the Westside, were in attendance.
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that union membership in Florida declined from 444,000 employees in 2021 to 414,000 employees in 2022. But Jim Shurling, president of the Teamsters Joint Council 75, which includes most of Florida, said there is interest in organizing.
“We are getting calls every day from nonunion companies for us to help them organize,” Shurling said. “In the South, people are finally starting to see the benefits of unions: economic (power), job security and recognition of the professional jobs they perform every day.”
Nationwide, 10.1% of wage and salaried workers are union members. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the number of union workers increased to 14.3 million people in 2022; however, the growth of nonunion jobs meant the overall percentage of union employees declined.
Florida has been a right-to-work state for 80 years. Connell said recent labor fights in the railroad, acting and auto workers unions have galvanized local membership.
“Down here in the dirty South, we didn’t grow up with our parents and grandparents being unionized,” Connell said. “And, we’re trying to change that now.”
Teamsters leaders and Anheuser-Busch are slated to resume negotiations next week.
Anheuser-Busch’s contract with the Teamsters expires Feb. 29. O’Brien stressed Friday that the Teamsters will not work in March without an agreement.
Lead image: Sean O’Brien, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, addresses members outside an Anheuser-Busch facility in Jacksonville. More than 400 Teamsters work at the Jacksonville brewery. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today