Bourbon maker reaches tentative deal with striking workers

Heaven Hill, one the largest bourbon producers in the world, announced Friday a tentative contract agreement with a union representing striking workers. This was just days after it indicated that it would begin hiring permanent replacement employees to handle bottling and warehouse operations here in Kentucky.
About 420 members from United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23D went to strike six weeks ago. They formed picket lines at Heaven Hills in Bardstown, after rejecting a previous contract offer. Workers will vote Saturday on the new five-year contract.

The dispute was over worker scheduling and health care. The bourbon industry's struggles to keep up with global demand was evident in the dispute over scheduling.

Heaven Hill released a statement Friday confirming that the agreement will continue Heaven Hills' long-standing commitments to its team members, providing industry-leading health care and wage growth, as well as increased flexibility for their schedules.

Friday's tentative contract agreement was not disclosed by either Heaven Hill, Kentucky, nor the union officials. Matt Aubrey, president of the local union, said that the union reached a tentative agreement with the company.

Aubrey stated that these hardworking people have been working together for over a month with the strong support from the Bardstown community to preserve the good jobs in Kentucky that their families have relied on for generations. When they vote on the tentative agreement, Heaven Hill workers will be able to make their voices heard.

Heaven Hill is a family-owned and operated distillery that produces Evan Williams, one the most popular bourbons in the world. Other brands include Elijah Craig and Henry McKenna as well as Old Fitzgerald, Larceny, Larceny, Parkers Heritage Collection, and Henry McKenna.

Heaven Hill said Monday that contract negotiations had come to an abrupt halt. The company stated that it would start the process of finding permanent replacement workers. Union leaders replied that they are open to negotiations and claimed that the company wants to replace striking workers with non-union workers.

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The public anger did not stop the negotiations from moving forward. Both sides resumed negotiations Thursday and reached a tentative agreement a day later.

Kentucky bourbon distilleries are a popular place to work. The jobs attract many generations of families. There are occasional disputes, and strikes have occurred at Jim Beam, Four Roses and other famous names in the bourbon industry.

The bourbon market has been on an upward trajectory for a long time.

The combined U.S. sales of bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, and rye whiskey rose 8.2% to $4.3 billion in 2020 despite a drop in sales at bars and restaurants due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Kentucky Distillers Association, 95% of the world's bourbon supply is produced by Kentucky distilleries.