After rejecting a contract proposal, about 420 members from United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23D went into strike six weeks ago. They formed picket lines at Bardstown's company operations in Kentucky.
Just days after the company indicated that it would begin hiring permanent replacement workers for warehouse and bottling operations, the tentative agreement was reached. According to Heaven Hill, workers voted to ratify Saturday's five-year agreement.
Josh Hafer, spokesperson for the company, stated that they look forward to welcoming their team members during normal operations.
The dispute was over scheduling and health care, which is a sign that the bourbon industry is experiencing growing pains in trying to keep up with global demand.
Heaven Hill is a family-owned and operated distillery that produces Evan Williams, one the top-selling Bourbons in the world. Other brands include Elijah Craig and Henry McKenna as well as Old Fitzgerald, Larceny, Larceny, Parker's Heritage Collection, and Old Fitzgerald.
Heaven Hill said Monday that contract negotiations had come to an abrupt halt. According to the company, it will begin the process of finding permanent replacement workers.
Union leaders replied that they were open to continuing negotiations, and accused the company for wanting to replace striking workers with non-union workers. Both sides resumed negotiations on Thursday and reached a tentative agreement Friday.
Kentucky bourbon distilleries are a popular place to work. The jobs often attract many generations of families. There are occasional disputes, and strikes have occurred at Jim Beam (and Four Roses) in recent years. These iconic names are also 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.