Bourbon producer signals intent to hire replacement workers

Kentucky Bourbon Producer Strike

Declaring an impasse in contract talks with striking union workers, global spirits producer Heaven Hill said Monday it will start hiring permanent replacement workers for bottling and warehouse operations in Kentucky.

Union leaders responded that they're willing to continue negotiations and accused the company of wanting to replace longtime employees with non-union workers.

About 420 members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23D have been on strike for more than five weeks They voted overwhelmingly last month to reject a new five-year contract offer and formed picket lines at Heaven Hill’s operations in Bardstown.

Family-owned and operated Heaven Hill produces Evan Williams, one of the world’s top-selling bourbons. Other brands of Kentucky-based Heaven Hill include Elijah Craig, Henry McKenna, Old Fitzgerald, Larceny and Parker’s Heritage Collection.

The dispute has revolved around health care and worker scheduling issues. The schedule dispute was a sign of the bourbon industry’s growing pains as it tries to keep up with increasing global demand.

Heaven Hill said in a statement Monday that it had negotiated in “good faith” with the union but the sides have been unable to reach an agreement. The company now will begin the process of hiring permanent replacement workers, it said.

“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,” said Heaven Hill President Max L. Shapira. “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.”