Teamsters strike continues for second week in Cicero
Delivery drivers for the wholesale alcohol distributor Breakthru Beverage remained on the picket line Wednesday as their strike continued into its second week.
Between 100 and 120 delivery drivers are on strike, said Karen Burcham, a spokesperson for Teamsters Local 710, which represents the workers. Drivers are seeking better systems to manage safety threats on the job, provisions to stem increasing load sizes and the ability to take earned paid time off, she said.
“We had four drivers in the last year robbed, two at gunpoint,” said Jimmy Drews, a union steward and Breakthru driver who said he has been with the company for 19 years.
“Even afterwards, they did not have one meeting or make one move to do anything to secure our workplace environment,” Drews said.
“We are disappointed that the Teamsters Local 710 have initiated a work stoppage, especially after the Company agreed to a significant number of union demands and reached a tentative agreement,” Breakthru Beverage Illinois said in a statement Wednesday.
“We have contingency plans in place and the business is operating as usual. We hope to reach a resolution soon and are committed to maintaining an open dialogue with our union partners,” the statement said.
Breakthru drivers make alcohol deliveries to restaurants, bars, grocery stores and other retailers throughout the Chicago area. Drews said he typically works 11- to 12-hour days, delivering anywhere between 350 to 600 cases of alcohol.
Breakthru drivers based in Cicero and the company’s satellite location in Rochelle first walked off the job last Monday. On Friday, Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien joined workers on the picket line.
Burcham said the union was trying to address safety concerns in contract proposals with the employer.
“There hasn’t been a lot of response from the company to kind of address these major safety concerns,” Burcham said.
Burcham also said that drivers are being denied requests to take their earned time off due to understaffing. Drivers’ load sizes are also increasing, she said.
In a statement, the company said there was “nothing more important than the safety of our associates” and that it had “made our commitment to associate safety clear during our recent bargaining sessions.”
Breakthru said it had implemented a number of safety measures, including piloting safety cameras on trucks, hiring a “safety manager” and conducting monthly safety meetings.
“We regularly evaluate our service area and if it is determined that a particular location poses a heightened security risk, a helper is assigned to ride with the driver so that no one is alone on the route,” it said.
Drews said drivers had concerns that helpers, who he said were contracted workers, were unprepared for the job.
The drivers’ previous contract expired in March, Burcham said, though drivers were working under an extension agreement until early June, when the union canceled the extension. The last bargaining sessions drivers had with management took place on June 9, Burcham said. The union bargaining committee rejected the company’s proposals at that session and drivers went on strike June 13.
“While the Union and the company had reached a tentative agreement, the proposed contract was overwhelmingly rejected by the membership,” Teamsters Local 710 said in a statement, reiterating drivers’ concerns about safety, increasing load sizes, time off and benefits.
“The employer barely acknowledges these issues and seems tone deaf to the frustration of their employees,” the statement said. “The members are sending a message to the Company that it needs to address these concerns. We hope that this strike finally wakes them up.”
Burcham said the company brought in outside drivers to make deliveries while workers are on strike.
Bernie Sherlock, a business agent for Local 710, said drivers were prepared to strike “as long as it takes.”
“We’re here for the long run,” Sherlock said. “We want to get these issues settled, and, you know, move forward.”
Breakthru Beverage Illinois is part of Breakthru Beverage Group, which is co-chaired by Chicago Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz. The company was formed by a 2015 merger of Wirtz Beverage and New York-based Charmer Sunbelt Group.
In 2019, Breakthru Beverage Illinois agreed to pay $950,000 to settle discrimination allegations after a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigation found “reasonable cause to believe that BBI discriminated against Illinois sales employees by offering them account and territory assignments that, when accepted, resulted in national origin or race discrimination.” The company denied the discrimination allegations at the time.