Molson Coors Strike Vancouver
Molson Coors Strike Vancouver This article is more than 8 months old
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Vancouver Brewery Workers Face Off Against Beer Conglomerate Molson Coors in Ongoing Strike

Dispute began after the billion-dollar company refused to increase workers' pay by cents, according to union

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Seven retail workers at Vancouver’s Granville Island Brewing are on strike against their multinational beer conglomerate employer, Molson Coors. 

The workers have been on strike since July 8, fighting for a wage increase that reflects Vancouver’s rising costs of living. 

“We have to pay rent like anybody else … We should be able to live less than an hour away from where we work,” Aaron Nakonechny, one of the striking workers and a shop steward, told PressProgress

“When you have the funds like they do and the money that the people at the top are making, what we’re asking for is not a lot, and it’s probably not even enough.” 

Molson Coors is the fifth largest beer company in the world and made $10.7 billion USD in net revenue last year. The company purchased Granville Island Brewing in 2009 and operates it through a subsidiary, Six Pints Collective. 

Photo by Phoebe Fuller/PressProgress

Six Pints Collective senior director Daniel Lundberg told PressProgress, “we’re doing everything we can to get a deal done, including offering mediation and raises on top of current pay, which is already above Vancouver’s living wage.”

But according to SEIU Local 2 Branch 300, the union representing striking workers, Molson Coors has refused to increase the top of workers’ pay scale to Vancouver’s actual living wage, $24.08, by the end of the proposed three-year contract.   

Granville Island Brewings’ retail workers currently start at minimum wage. Most don’t get premiums and currently make only $20.97 an hour, according to the union. 

The brewery, including its retail space and taproom restaurant, has been closed since the strike began. At peak busy summer season, Nakonechny estimates that the missed profits would have been more than enough to cover the requested wage increase, which the union reports is less than a dollar more than the employer’s offer. 

“The amount of money they’ve lost in potential revenue is way more than we were asking for in our contract. So it feels like it’s more of a matter of principle than anything,” Nakonechny said. 

“If they show that they can be beat by seven people, what do they do when one of their bigger groups goes on strike?”

Granville Island Brewing was unionized in 1987, decades before BC breweries were permitted to have tasting rooms, so the union only covers the location’s retail employees. The more than 30 workers in the brewery’s restaurant-style taproom remain without union representation.

John Locke, president of SEIU Local 2 Branch 300, agreed that the dispute is more about setting a precedent than what the company can actually afford. 

“We’d like to get the whole place on board, sign cards and join the union,” Locke told PressProgress. “If we’re successful here, we hope to show them that life can be better on the union side … perhaps that’s why Molson Coors is drawing the line.”

Locke said the strike has also drawn new attention to the brewery’s previously unknown corporate affiliation. 

“(Granville Island Brewing) is the face of the craft brewery. This is supposed to be a happy, non-corporate entity,” Locke said. “They’re doing themselves a lot of damage. Most people out here don’t realize that Granville Island (Brewing) is owned by Molson Coors.” 

The strike follows a six-week lockout of 300 workers at a Molson Coors brewery in Toronto in 2021 and an 11-week strike of 420 workers at another Molson Coors facility in Longueuil, Québec. in 2022. 

“They’ve been very aggressive across the country. They don’t mind just shutting (their breweries) down,” Locke said. 

Photo by Phoebe Fuller/PressProgress

The power imbalance between workers and employers is worsened in situations like Granville Island Brewings’, according to University of Manitoba associate professor of labour studies David Camfield. 

“You have a small group of beverage sector workers dealing with one particular operation, but that operation is owned by a giant multinational corporation which has enormously deep pockets,” Camfield told PressProgress. 

With the work stoppage barely making a dent in Molson Coors’ profits, workers face additional barriers in their fight for fair wages. 

“The challenge for the workers in this situation is to try to find points of weakness where the employer might be vulnerable, whether it’s because of the reputation with customers, or some other way of finding a hole in their armor,” Camfield said. 

The company has faced public criticism for its labour practices before. In the 1970s, a 21-month strike of 1,500 unionized workers at a Colorado Coors brewery ended with the union being forcibly dissolved. This union-busting on top of Coors’ discriminatory hiring practices and right-wing political affiliations culminated in a nationwide boycott of Coors products that lasted until the 1980s. 

Canada-based Molson merged with US-based Coors in 2005. Eric Picotte, president of Teamsters 1999’s Molson Coors Local representing the striking workers in Longueuil, said in a statement that working conditions had deteriorated since the merge with the historically anti-union US beer company. 

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Despite the David and Goliath nature of the Granville Island dispute, Camfield said it indicates the growing determination workers have to fight for fair pay as inflation and rental prices continue to rise. 

“I think it suggests that workers are, fortunately, not as beaten down as they were five years ago. That there’s enough confidence that they would take a stand on this is something that should be seen as hopeful and encouraging.”

Nakonechny agreed that there’s more at stake in this strike than just a pay increase for him and his coworkers. 

“We are setting the precedent that we’re serious about being treated fairly and being treated with respect,” Nakonechny said. “Obviously love better wages for us, that is a big reason we’re here, but we’re also here because we want to show that all workers deserve this respect.”

 

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Phoebe Fuller
Labour reporting intern
Phoebe Fuller is PressProgress' 2023 labour reporting intern and a Masters of Journalism student at UBC.

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