Tevlin: Craft brewers laboring to understand Teamsters' stance

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 20, 2014 - 9:17 AM

Clint Roberts, executive director of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, recently drove by the Surly brewery plant being built in the Prospect Park neighborhood of Minneapolis and noted the bright blue trucks from Cemstone, which is doing the cement work.

The drivers of those trucks are members of the Teamsters union, which single-handedly (with the help of key DFLers) shot down a bill that would have allowed breweries such as Surly to continue to grow by selling jugs, or “growlers,” of beer on Sunday.

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

In fact, the Teamsters were so proud of their work they sent out a picture of the trucks on Twitter. Yet after the bill allowing Sunday sales seemed to be on a fast track to approval, the Teamsters suddenly went behind the scenes and shot it down as the legislative session was winding down.

I’ve tried to get ahold of Teamster political director Ed Reynoso to find out why, exactly, the union suddenly turned against the proposed Sunday sales.

Initially, Reynoso asked me to send him my questions. “I would be happy to answer them,” he wrote.

Then, this: “After discussion with our Teamster leadership, we’ve decided that the best approach at this moment would be to just provide you with a brief comment.”

Here is the non-comment comment: “We are eager and optimistic that between now and the next legislative session, we will be able to meet with our employers, craft brewers, and key legislators to find a compromise to address everyone’s’ concerns. This can only be achieved with the correct tone and respectful dialogue in recognizing and understanding each others’ issues.”

Blah, blah and blah.

State Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, a sponsor of the bill that would have allowed Sunday sales in breweries only, said he tried to incorporate language that would protect union contracts, but the union stopped talking to him. Reinert said the issue is wildly popular both among the public and in the Legislature, but because of Teamsters opposition, it failed.

“[There were] tricky [and questionable] procedural moves, despite the fact that it was an overwhelming vote in the Senate,” he said. “Were the House allowed to vote, I hear it would have been similar there.”

Reynoso is also a member of the Metropolitan Council, appointed by Gov. Dayton around the time the so-called Surly bill passed the Legislature and began to provide work for his members.

So I e-mailed him a question about how his stance against breweries squares with the line on his Met Council biography: “more of a focus on economic development will help ensure a healthy and vibrant region.”

Reynoso responded that “the issue has nothing to do with my position at the Metropolitan Council.”

Well, there is a winery in the area Reynoso represents, Goose Lake Farm and Winery. The winery is allowed to sell wine by the bottle on Sundays. But if someone opened a brewery in the area, it would not be allowed to sell beer to go. I asked Reynoso if that was fair, but he didn’t respond.

Roberts can’t help but see the irony in the fact Teamsters turned on them.

“So, with all of their member cement trucks driving by [their office] on University Avenue they can literally see the result from a successful law change that has benefited a variety of layers in the craft beer industry,” said Roberts. “Because Surly wouldn’t have built the brewery it is building — at that scope and vision — if it hadn’t been able to tweak a law three years ago. This is a tangible example of legislative advancements in Minnesota craft beer resulting in jobs and work for support industries, making the Teamsters’ opposition to the Sunday growler legislation all the more puzzling.”

The only explanation the Teamsters have given about their opposition to growler sales is that a company that distributes alcohol and employs Teamsters said the law would allow them to reopen their labor contracts.

Reinert said the Teamsters would not show him the contract, and would not tell him which company made the threat. Since Sunday sales don’t involve Teamsters, it’s hard to see how it affects them.

The Sunday growler law was not among the most important issues at the Legislature this session, but it did offer important insight.

The issue demonstrated the union answers to no one. It also showed the DFL-controlled Legislature answers to the people who answer to no one.

 

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702 Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin

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