The 1981 Schlitz strike was a labor strike involving approximately 700 brewery workers of the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company plant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States. The strike began June 1, 1981 after the labor contract between Schlitz and the local union (Brewery Workers Local 9) expired without a replacement. The strike came at a time when the company was still recovering from financial difficulties it had sustained in the years prior. After almost two months of striking, the company announced that it would be closing its Milwaukee brewery in an effort to stay competitive and reduce excess production capacity. The plant closed on September 30, and Schlitz was acquired by the Stroh Brewery Company the following year.
|1981 Schlitz strike|
|Date||June 1 – September 30, 1981[note 1]|
(3 months, 4 weeks and 1 day)
|Resulted in||Schlitz closes its Milwaukee plant and is later acquired by Stroh Brewery Company|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
In 1981, the Milwaukee-based Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company was the fourth largest brewing company in the United States. Several years prior, the company was the second largest, with sales peaking in 1976. However, in the years following, the company's market share and overall sales declined, due in part to a change in their beer formula and a nationwide ad campaign which were both poorly received. Additionally, the company had been involved in antitrust action with the Federal government. In 1981, the company was also experiencing a potential issue with organized labor. That year, members of the Brewery Workers Local 9, who represented approximately 700 workers at the company's Milwaukee plant,[note 2] announced they would go on strike if the company and union hadn't come to an agreement regarding new labor contracts by midnight on May 31, when the current contracts were set to expire. According to union representatives, the benefits and wages at the plant were about half what the union had achieved at the Pabst Brewing Company and Miller Brewing Company, both also based in Milwaukee. At the time, the United Press International (UPI) was reporting that some industry experts thought a walkout at the plant could actually help Schlitz to save money and be more competitive. At the time, the Milwaukee plant was the oldest and least efficient plant operated by Schlitz, and the company at the time was operating its facilities at approximately 50% production capacity. UPI also reported speculation that Schlitz would close the plant. On June 1, the local union went on strike, with picketing commencing that day.
Strike action and aftermathEdit
The strike began on June 1, 1981. The strike continued through June and into late July, at which time The New York Times reported that Schlitz was discussing being bought out by the G. Heileman Brewing Company of La Crosse, Wisconsin. On July 31, Schlitz reported that the Milwaukee plant would permanently close on September 30 of that year. In discussing the rationale behind the closure, Schlitz chief executive officer Frank J. Sellinger stated that the company was carrying excessive production capacity and that the closure would help them to stay competitive. Schlitz would still be headquartered in Milwaukee and would continue to operate a container plant in nearby Oak Creek, Wisconsin. After several striking employees took an early retirement, there were still an estimated 700 strikers who would be directly affected by the closure. At the time of the announcement, the company and union were still in discussions regarding a new contract. Additionally, it was reported that Pabst had submitted a competing offer to acquire the company.
In October, U.S. Assistant Attorney General William Baxter stated that the United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division would file an antitrust suit against Heileman if they attempted to carry out the acquisition, which was subsequently dropped. In 1982, Schlitz was acquired by the Stroh Brewery Company. Schlitz was eventually acquired by Pabst from Stroh in 1999.
- "Workers strike at Schlitz brewery". United Press International. June 1, 1981. Archived from the original on June 3, 2021. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
- Chavez, Lydia (July 25, 1981). "G. HEILEMAN OFFERS TO BUY SCHLITZ". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on April 11, 2019. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
- "Schlitz' Milwaukee brewery closing". United Press International. July 31, 1981. Archived from the original on June 3, 2021. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
- Sheppard Jr., Nathaniel (August 9, 1981). "MILWAUKEEANS FACE LOSS OF ONE OF THEIR OWN IN CLOSING SCHLITZ BREWERY". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on April 13, 2019. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
- "A history of Schlitz beer". La Crosse Tribune. Lee Enterprises. Associated Press. August 2, 2008. Archived from the original on April 28, 2019. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
- Foran, Chris (June 5, 2017). "10 moments from Milwaukee's past — June". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Gannett. Archived from the original on September 19, 2020. Retrieved June 3, 2021.