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Heaven Hill workers continue strike, after company says contract negotiations failed

A UFCW 23D representative said Heaven Hill should be working around the clock to reach an agreement on a fair contract that invests in its Kentucky workers.

BARDSTOWN, Ky. — After five weeks at the negotiation table, officials with Heaven Hill said they’ve reached an impasse with the union representing workers.

In a statement released Monday, the bourbon giant said it has “worked in good faith with the UFCW” to adopt a new contract.

“We’ve been incredibly disappointed by the mischaracterizations of the union leadership but we remain hopeful that our employees are ready to come back," Chief Human Resources Officer Emma Hutchens said Tuesday. 

Union members returned to the picket line Tuesday to continue their strike. 

“We aren’t asking for millions from them, we’re just asking to grow with the company," Larry Newton said. 

Union members have argued that language in the current contract references traditional and non-traditional schedules that could require employees to work weekends. They believe the move would impact their families.

“We actually didn’t propose a non-traditional schedule," Hutchens said. "That is another mischaracterization from the union leadership. Heaven Hill does not want to take out employees away from their families.”

Union leader said they found the contract language unclear, and worried it could lead to weekend work. Heaven Hill said no current employees would be forced to work a non-traditional schedule under the contract, and they have no plans to implement that type of shift. 

"The proposal of non-traditional traditional was very vague, we wish they would put more set stone language in black and white," UFCW 23D President Matt Aubrey said. 

Since neither side has been unable to agree on contract terms, Heaven Hill said they are in the process of hiring replacement workers.  

“We’ve heard from our employees in the community that they are in favor of the proposed contract terms and eager to return to work,” President Max L. Shapira said. “Given the long-standing and positive working relationship Heaven Hill has with its employees, it is disappointing we were unable to reach an agreement with Union leadership.”

Even though they’ve worked with the UFCW 23D for decades, they believe the failure to ratify a contract is related to terms being mischaracterized by union leadership. Heaven Hill said members have been threatened with fines if they returned to work.

“It's really disappointing how they're treating these essential family traditional workers," Aubrey said. "For them just to keep ignoring the workers and not wanting to come to terms to work with one another.”

Heaven Hill said striking employees would be able to come back. They would be working under the new contract starting Monday, October 25th. 

Tuesday, union members said they doubted many would take the company up on the offer, and that new employees might also be hard to find. 

“I think most of us out here are strong and I don’t think that would happen," Frankie Carrico said. 

“These people are not going to cross these lines and take these jobs, because they know what our job is, what we’re standing here for," Newton said. 

Union leaders also said they were not made aware of the impasse announcement in advance, and many members found out second hand. 

Heaven Hill said the company did notify leadership and was in the process of notifying employees individually. 

The company is announcing updates on the negotiations and information about the contract here

UFCW 23D President Matt Aubrey released a response.

“It is stunning that Heaven Hill is refusing to continue negotiations and is resorting to hiring non-union workers to try to push out the hardworking Kentucky men and women who have worked at the company for generations and made it the success it is today. Heaven Hill should be working around the clock to reach an agreement on a fair contract that invests in its Kentucky workers, but instead it is trying to replace them and even spending $1 million on a flashy baseball sweepstakes to further boost corporate profits.

The reality is that Heaven Hill negotiations are not at an impasse. UFCW 23D and Heaven Hill workers are ready and willing to meet with the company to continue talks so that we can reach a fair contract. Good faith bargaining by the company with its workers and their union can succeed. Unfortunately, Heaven Hill is refusing to bargain in good faith with its workers. For this reason, the union has filed Unfair Labor Practices charges against Heaven Hill with the National Labor Relations Board to address this conduct.”

Aubrey said those workers have created a new grassroots campaign, called for action on a fair contract to protect their jobs, and received support from the Bardstown community.

He believes Heaven Hill cut the health care of the workers and retirees after speaking out for a stronger contract which led to the strike.

"As the union for Heaven Hill workers, UFCW Local 23D is calling on the company to end the delays and work together with us to finally reach an agreement on a fair contract so that we can end this strike and get these hardworking Kentucky men and women back on the job,” Aubrey said.

Despite it all, Heaven Hill said operations have continued under their contingency plan “with limited interruptions” and plans to produce, bottle, and ship their products.

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