BEER LEAGUERED: Dick Yuengling, Union Breaker?

POTTSVILLE, Pa. – Dick Yuengling Jr., fifth-generation owner of the brewery that bears his name, called his employees together a few weeks before their labor contract was set to expire to talk about the future of the business. “Read between the lines,” he told them at one point, according to government documents on the management-union feud that followed.

Depending upon whom you ask, Yuengling’s speech was either a pep talk to urge employees to work harder or an ultimatum to dump the Teamsters union, which is what they did.

Union leaders say Dick Yuengling told the workers that he would sell the business or shut it down unless they shed their decades-long affiliation with the Teamsters. How else, they say, to explain the sudden decision to decertify?

The brewery says employees started a decertification drive on their own with no encouragement or interference from the owner.

“The company simply honored the employees’ wishes,” Casinelli said.

And the National Labor Relations Board sided with the company. It could find no evidence that management pressured employees to leave Philadelphia-based Local 830 of the Teamsters.

No surprise there, the Teamsters said. Employees were too scared of losing their $20-an-hour jobs to come forward to testify about what was said at the meeting, union leaders said.

“Pottsville’s a very small town, and the Yuengling brewery’s the only game in town. So there was great pressure from the people of Pottsville to not say anything,” said Daniel Grace, head of Local 830.

Yuengling, founded in 1829 by Dick Yuengling Jr.’s great-great-grandfather, was a small regional brewery for most of its history. But it grew explosively in the 1990s – driven by the popularity of a lager it introduced in 1987 — and now distributes in 10 states.

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