Busch Employees Strike to Join Union
Union Members Picket Outside University Museum
A 12-day-old strike at an East Cambridge Budweiser distribution plant yesterday spilled onto the steps of Harvard's Busch Reisinger art museum and into the Cambridge City Council.
About 50 truck drivers and warehousemen from the August A. Busch Co. plant picketed outside the museum to show their sympathy for 16 of the distributor's non-union clerical employees who walked off their jobs on October 20.
The clerical workers took the job action in an attempt to speed up talks aimed at including the workers in the company's collective bargaining agreement. Local 122 contends that Busch has been dragging its feet in the negotiations.
The picketers were among 130 members of Teamsters Union Local 122 who are striking in support of the clerical workers. The clerical employees are seeking to be covered by Local 122's contract with the company.
The strike has also been supported by the Cambridge City Council which unanimously passed a resolution backing Local 122's position.
Picket organizers said yesterday they chose the 80-year old museum as a protest site because the Busch family contributed funds for its construction and operation.
"We couldn't go to St. Louis [where the firm is based], so we came here," said Robert McGoniagle, president of Local 122. "It's just a symbol for us, not a reflection on the museum itself--we don't want people to drink Bud, but they can see the artwork."
Picketers marched in front of the museum, and asked pedestrians "not to buy Bud in Boston."
Peter Nisbet, curator of the museum, said that neither the Busch family nor its beer company currently funds the museum's operations.
"It's only a name," Nisbet said, "I'm not sure I'd drink his beer just because his name is on my museum."
Aside from the issue of the strike itself, city councilors last night were concerned about the role the Cambridge police force was playing in the picketing.
Several councilors said they had seen large numbers of police and patrol cars at the strike site, and escorting the busloads of out-of-state employees that the Busch company had brought in to cross the picket lines.
"They're pulling policemen off our streets to send them to the picket line," said Councilor Thomas W. Danchy.
But Police Chief Anthony Paolillo responded that the officers on duty at 6 a.m. when the buses cross the picket lines are either working overtime for the department or in the case of 30 policemen, are hired by the company.
"We have an obligation to protect our city and to uphold the law," Paolillo said, adding that the city would charge Busch for the overtime costs.
Other councilors said that by escorting the busloads of strikebreakers to the plant. Cambridge police were themselves crossing the picket line.
Paolillo said that the policy of his force was not to take sides on strikes, but added that if the company wished to drive its trucks, he had a legal duty to make sure they could.
Paolillo, however, did not allow the company to hire off-duty Cambridge policemen to patrol the area in plain clothes. He said the company subsequently hired agents from two private Boston detective firms.
City Manager Robert W. Healy added that because there was very little violence involved with the strike, the police force was "phasing down" its operations in the area.
The only incident involving strikers occurred on the first day of the picketing, when several union drivers lay down in front of a Budweiser delivery truck to prevent it from leaving the garage. The protesters were arrested by the Cambridge police.
Since then, Paolillo said, the only violence surrounding the strike was a smoke bomb that was thrown into a local liquor store just after it received a delivery of the company's beer.
Meanwhile, talks aimed at ending the strike continued in downtown Boston Representatives from both sides met with a federal mediator at noon yesterday, and we were still meeting by early evening.
Busch Spokesman Wayne Charness said that his company had been "somewhat surprised" by the walkout, "because management felt progress was being made and had scheduled talks past October 20."
But union officials felt the company was negotiating in bad faith, John Murphy, a business agent for Local 122, told the city council last night.
"On the second day of the strike, we suggested everybody go back for a 21-day cooling off period, conducting round-the-clock negotiating sessions to get this settled, and the company responded by locking out the 16 clerical employees," Murphy added.
Murphy said he thought the walkout would not end for some time. "Anheuser Busch [of which August Busch is a subsidiary and regional distributor] is prepared to spend any amount of money" to win the light, he said.
And Joel Giorgio, a union member picketing at the museum, said he was prepared to stay off the job "as long as we have to."
The seven-year employee of August Busch added that a prolonged walkout could make things financially difficult for his family.
McGoniagle, however, said he couldn't see the strike lasting more than about four weeks. "Both sides are talking, and that is a good sign," he said.
Budweiser deliveries are continuing in the Cambridge and Boston area, although drivers said the trucks have been accompanied by convoys of security guards in some cases and sometimes by union members, who distribute information at each stop, urging retailers to join their Budweiser boycott.
McGoniagle said about half the retailers have complied with the boycott request.
Mitchel Azar, who runs a liquor store on Mass. Ave. said yesterday he had pulled Budweiser from the shelves in his store to show his sympathy for the strikers.
But a local bartender who asked that the name of his saloon not be published said he will still serve the beer to his customers.
"We have no beef with Budweiser," he said, "It's a popular beer. They should settle this dispute between themselves and not involve the customers."
At the Harvard Faculty Club, the beer served has been changed from Budweiser to Miller, said Beverage Manager Charles Rodgers.
"No union people asked us to switch, but we haven't been able to get Bud because of the strike," he said.
No one has complained about the switch, Rodgers added.
August Busch also distributes Michelob and Busch beers in addition to Budweiser.