Brewery workers vote to end strike at G. Heileman Teamsters unhappy with union leaders


Brewery workers represented by Teamsters Local 1010 voted 142-79 yesterday to end their monthlong strike against the G. Heileman Brewing Co., but only after loud objections to their union's warning that strike pay would probably not continue.

The vote at an Eastern Avenue hall to accept Heileman's latest proposal followed several rounds of attacks on union leadership. The members are scheduled to go back to work at 11:30 tonight.

"We're glad to be resuming normal operations," said a spokesman for the La Crosse, Wis.-based company, the nation's fifth-largest brewery. The local plant has used substitute labor since the strike began on July 1.

The striking employees, who make and bottle National Bohemian beer and Colt 45 malt liquor, among other brews, at Heileman's Halethorpe plant, had been receiving $200-a-week strike pay from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters since voting 186-19 to strike.

Told by local President Ray Machlinski yesterday morning that the international would probably end the strike pay if yesterday's proposal were rejected, the members responded with catcalls and obscenities.

"How the hell can they take away what they're giving us to fight the company and expect us to get what we want?" shouted one man in the union hall at 6910 Eastern Ave.

"I guess we have to live by what the international dictates, not what the local wants."

"I'm just telling you the facts," replied Mr. Machlinski. "We're recommending this contract. We believe that there is no more to get" from Heileman.

The company filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in January with billion in debts.

The contract accepted yesterday gives the workers an immediate 30-cent-an-hour raise with an additional 20 cents an hour in July 1992 and a 20-cent jump again in 1993.

They currently earn a little more than $13.30 an hour.

The membership rejected the same wage package on July 14.

Contract improvements include the establishment of a 401(k) savings plan to begin in 1992, with the company contributing a maximum of $2 a week, and free generic prescription drugs under the current health plan.

"We didn't get anything in our pension plan," said a 38-year veteran of the brewery, which began in Baltimore as the National Brewing Co. in the late 1880s.

"It's a frustrating thing. You're really taking a chance when you go on strike against a bankrupt company. The company says there's nothing more to get and the men don't feel that way."

Still, they voted to go back to work.

"I believe there was no more to get," said Ernest Mack, a 37-year-old Pimlico resident who works as a brewer. "You can't believe everything the [dissidents] say in a meeting. They say one thing and vote another."

"It's time to go back," said Thomas L. Thompson, a warehouseman. "There's bills to be paid."

Industry analysts have predicted that even if the company is able to stabilize its manifold money problems and avoid a possible strike by two dozen machinists currently working under a contract extension, National Bohemian beer could be a victim of Heileman's woes.

In the 1960s, the one-eyed Mr. Boh was the brew king in the Land of Pleasant Living, with a 60 percent local market share and a huge plant in Highlandtown.

"That was our heyday," said a brewery veteran.

Today, with a case of National Boh selling for $7.49 at a liquor store right next to the union hall, the one-time local favorite of crab feasts and Orioles games is in big trouble.

"The future is pretty clear," Doug Mohler, vice president of sales and marketing for Metropolitan Distributing, a Heileman distributor in Jessup, predicted last week. "National Bohemian is going to be part of our history."

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