Labatt Employees Will No Longer Get Free Beer For Life When They Retire
For more than five decades, Labatt allotted free beer for life as part of the pension-benefit package to retired employees—that well will soon be running dry.
Because said perk has been deemed too pricey, Labatt will no longer offer employee-appreciation ale as of January 1, 2019. As a seeming insult to injury, Labatt’s existing post-service employees are getting their gratis-beer bushels cut in half as of 2018. But its beer workers see it as a cheap shot when considering the raging revenues the company rakes in.
“I just think it’s nickel-and-diming of our retirees that put in a lot of work for many, many years,” local union-president Jim Stirr said. “In the cost of doing business, it’s such a small, small thing.”
While Labatt’s known to be a Canadian company, it’s now owned by none other than Belgium-based-beer-behemoth Anheuser-Busch InBev—the publicly traded super sudser that soaked up over 400 beer brands globally. (It reported a feat of $55 billion in revenue in 2015 alone!)
“The reason for the change relates to the rising overall cost of maintaining a full-benefits package—including health-care coverage for retirees,” Labatt vice-president Lindsay King addressed in a written statement to employees dated Oct. 28. “A recent, comprehensive review of all the cost-management options has led us to conclude that discontinuing free beer is the best course.”
The union said the soon-to-be-severed suds supply has been a modest amount of appreciation in return for a mighty effort at the Edmonton brewery since the announcement to open the facility in 1962.
The local-union contract in Edmonton entailed each employee getting a Labatt gift card equivalent to the cost of 52 12-pack cases of beer (one per week). When retirement is reached, that offer was good for life—and more. Even if a Labatt retiree reached the end, their spouse was still entitled to it.
Stirr said the ordeal has as much to do with person-to-person marketing as it does about employee satisfaction. “If I’m going to a barbecue, it’s nice to bring a case or two of a beer I made—since we work hard to be the best of the best,” Stirr added.
For Stirr and his union, the free beer makes them feel like brand ambassadors. “It’s a sense of pride. I’m a salesperson, basically.”
With 30 temporary employees and over 100 full-time folks, the Edmonton brewery’s basically its own community. Senior employees, who’ve delivered decades of hard work, recall the days when Labatt foam-factory jobs were highly prized and paid enough for them and their family—a life could be made.
“We have a retiree that’s been there since 1972. He’s probably worked there longer than the majority of the members have been born,” Stirr said.
The brewery’s brethren boasted that type of loyalty hearkens the early days—when work seemed similar to a second family.
A long while back, the business was Canadian to the core—family owned and über successful. Around the 1950s and ’60s, Labatt’s tenacity entailed a triumphant pursuit to be Canada’s national brewer—it opened hops hubs in B.C., the Toronto area, Montreal, Newfoundland and Edmonton.
While the work was repetitive and often tedious (especially the overnight shifts), morale had might. More, a new sale or production milestone meant a company party—employee hockey and baseball games after work, wonderful wages and benefits too (and of course the free beer)!
But Stirr’s union folk explained it all started to end when Labatt began a love affair with a foreign company in the 1990s—free beer is not a first cut.
The start of 2010 was when new hires’ wages went down by $10—an introductory pay of $24/hour (compared to $34/hour for workers hired previously). That year also entailed new hires having to pay into their own pension.
When asked to explain...the company declined an interview. But senior-director Jeff Ryan stated this in an email: “We only came to this decision after benchmarking a range of Canadian beer…our benefits package continues to compare very favorably.”
However, they didn’t clarify how much money will be saved when barring employees’ beer supply—there are currently 3,000 workers across the country. To put it all into perspective, Molsen made a similar move in 2009—the cut to 2,400 retirees would save an estimated sum of just over $1 million a year, which would be meager for Labatt when considering the $55 billion in revenue.