- The Washington Times - Friday, October 21, 2005

ST. LOUIS — It just wasn’t Bill Deida’s night. Seated at his usual barstool and wearing a red St. Louis Cardinals shirt, Mr. Deida earlier this week watched the home team lose a playoff game to the Houston Astros. Worse, his mug was filled with Miller Lite.

“It’s nothing like Budweiser,” complained Mr. Deida, telephone company technician and union member.

Some beer drinkers in the land of Budweiser are being served other brands these days in the name of union solidarity. Teamsters on strike against an Anheuser-Busch distributor are urging people in St. Louis to boycott the hometown brew.

But drinking anything but Bud is practically heresy in St. Louis, the home of Anheuser-Busch Cos. The city’s blue-collar sympathies notwithstanding, Bud is still very much the King of Beers in this realm.

In fact, the strike has been the least-successful labor action in St. Louis in at least 30 years, said Neil Bernstein, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Generally speaking, when you have a strike, the overwhelming bulk of people in town are supportive. They’re not supportive of this one,” Mr. Bernstein said. “It looks like the union is in big trouble.”

Twenty-five drivers belonging to Teamsters Local 600 went on strike in May against Lohr Distributing Co. after talks collapsed over salary and health care payments. Lohr is Anheuser-Busch’s exclusive distributor within the city limits.

“It’s David and Goliath is what it is,” said Teamster Tony Giamanco. “If we get 1 percent of the crowd not to drink [Anheuser-Busch products], that’s a huge victory for us.”

Final victory seems distant. In fact, it is not clear whether Lohr drivers even have their jobs anymore. The company told them this month they have been permanently replaced. The union said that is just a hardball negotiating tactic and that workers will be able to get their positions back. A Lohr spokesman would not comment.

Anheuser-Busch has largely tried to stay above the fray, saying Lohr is an independent contractor. The brewer filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board last week charging that the Teamsters’ boycott is illegal because Anheuser-Busch is not directly involved in the dispute. The board is investigating.

As for Milwaukee-based Miller Brewing Co., spokesman Peter Marino said: “If people in St. Louis have the opportunity to try Miller Lite, more of them … will hopefully realize that Miller Lite does indeed taste better than Bud Light.”

Hodak’s Restaurant & Bar, where Mr. Deida drank his Miller Lite, has not served Bud or other Anheuser-Busch beers for five months.

“So much of our clientele is union and blue collar,” explained bartender Mike Zotos. Only a few patrons have complained about losing Budweiser, he said. They can choose between Miller products or a number of microbrews.

Another bar, the Cat’s Meow, boycotted Anheuser-Busch products for a while, then gave up.

“We lasted for three months and two days,” said manager and former union member Kenneth Ortmann. Customers often applauded the boycott, only to leave after one beer to visit a bar serving Budweiser. “I’m not going to lay people off,” Mr. Ortmann said.

Even Mayor Francis Slay has been forced to choose sides. The Teamsters asked Mr. Slay to boycott Budweiser during a city-sponsored concert in August. He agreed to serve Corona, which is brewed by a company Anheuser-Busch partially owns but is not distributed by Lohr.

After the decision became known, the mayor received a call from August Busch III, chairman of Anheuser-Busch. Mr. Busch told the mayor that Anheuser-Busch wanted to sponsor the concert. The Corona plan was scrapped.

“You can’t really have a sponsor and not serve their product,” said Ed Rhode, the mayor’s spokesman. Besides, Mr. Rhode added, the people of St. Louis prefer Bud.

“Just thinking about getting a Miller Lite — it’s not in the question,” he said.

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