Teamsters strike hits prominent Chicago-area liquor distributor

Drivers have been off the job since Monday night at Breakthru Beverage Group in Cicero.

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Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien (left) joins strikers on a picket line Friday outside Breakthru Beverage Group In Cicero.

Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien (left) joins strikers on a picket line Friday outside Breakthru Beverage Group In Cicero.

International Brotherhood of Teamsters

Truck drivers have gone on strike against Breakthru Beverage Group in Cicero, a leading wholesaler of beer, wine and liquor.

About 100 employees belonging to Teamsters Local 710 have been on strike since Monday night, union leaders said. Michael Cales, secretary-treasurer of Local 710, said members voted to strike after rejecting a tentative agreement for a four-year contract.

Cales said members are upset over provisions dealing with personal days and sick time, as well as issues affecting health and safety on the job.

The top officer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, General President Sean O’Brien, joined the strikers on their picket line Friday outside the Breakthru warehouse at 3333 S. Laramie Ave. O’Brien was in town for pro-labor events that include a convention in Rosemont for union organizers and supporters.

“The employees keep getting larger and larger trucks, and they’re putting more cases on these trucks. People are working 12- and 14-hour days,” Cales said.

He also said the company has turned aside proposals to improve security for drivers, some of whom have had personal items stolen while making deliveries. One was threatened by someone with an assault weapon last year, Cales said.

Breakthru operates in the U.S. and Canada and was formed by mergers that involved the former Wirtz Beverage Group in Chicago. W. Rockwell “Rocky” Wirtz, who owns the Chicago Blackhawks, is co-chairman of Breakthru. The company reports more than $6 billion in annual sales.

“We are disappointed that the Teamsters Local 710 have initiated a work stoppage, especially after the company agreed to a significant number of the union’s demands and reached a tentative agreement,” a company spokesperson said.

“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.”

Cales said the company has brought in out-of-town workers to try to keep up deliveries. He said no negotiating sessions are scheduled.

Breakthru customers in northern Illinois have reported getting deliveries from substitute drivers with slight delays, said Dan Clausner, executive director of the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association. He said the strike does not affect Breakthru customers in central or southern Illinois.

His group represents more than 2,500 retailers of alcohol, from taverns to grocery stores.

Clausner said Breakthru and Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits are the major liquor distributors in Illinois.

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