Whiskey workers strike at 2 Beam distilleries in Kentucky

CLERMONT, Ky. — Bill Ball has handled multiple whiskey-making tasks in his 47 years at Jim Beam, but on Saturday he took on an unexpected role — joining colleagues on a picket line outside a Beam distillery in Kentucky.

CLERMONT, Ky. — Bill Ball has handled multiple whiskey-making tasks in his 47 years at Jim Beam, but on Saturday he took on an unexpected role — joining colleagues on a picket line outside a Beam distillery in Kentucky.

More than 200 union workers walked off their jobs at Beam distilleries at Clermont and Boston in Kentucky after voting Friday to reject the latest contract offer from the world’s leading bourbon producer.

As the old contract expired, Beam said its contingency plans would keep operations running to maintain the flow of whiskey to distributors and consumers.

As passing motorists honked in support Saturday, striking workers outside the Clermont distillery vented their frustrations.

They said staffing shortages often extend work weeks to 60 to 80 hours to keep up with growing demand for Beam whiskey.

The company has turned increasingly to temporary workers, they said, and disregards seniority when assigning veteran employees to new roles or shifts.

“We hope this is settled shortly,” Ball said. “If it’s not, we’re here for the long haul.”

The walkout soured what has been an era of smooth relations between management and labor in Kentucky’s whiskey industry, which has ridden a wave of renewed popularity in recent years.