WASHINGTON — The AFL-CIO today ended its decade-old boycott of Coors beer, the longest-running and one of the most bitter labor-management disputes in recent history, after the company agreed to allow votes on union representation at Coors' flagship brewery in Golden, Colo., and to other concessions.
"The effective efforts of thousands of boycott volunteers, the passage of events and the more positive approach taken by the current Coors management have combined to make this settlement possible," AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland said in a statement.
Peter Coors, president of brewery operations for Adolph Coors Co., acknowledged in a statement issued at its headquarters in Colorado that the settlement removes some hurdles in marketing the company's beer.
Can Focus on Competing
"With this issue resolved, we can focus our attention toward competing based on the high quality of our products," he said. "Our corporate philosophy . . . has always been to value all relationships which are honorable, based on human respect and recognize human dignity."
Coors officials have acknowledged that the AFL-CIO boycott, in which the union mounted a massive campaign urging consumers not to buy the company's beer, had frustrated their efforts in expanding its sales in the East.
AFL-CIO and Coors officials said the agreement removes obstacles in allowing federation-affiliated unions to attempt to organize workers at the company's Golden brewery.
The Machinists Union immediately announced that it will launch major organizing drives at both Golden and at a new brewery that Coors is building in Elkton, Va.
New $70-Million Plant
The company also said in the agreement that construction of the new $70-million brewery, packaging and distribution facility in Virginia "will be undertaken either by union signatory contractors or by a negotiated project labor agreement" with AFL-CIO building trades unions.
The labor federation had rejected a proposal by Coors last February that did not include those provisions.
Rex Hardesty, a spokesman for the 13-million-member labor federation, described the settlement as "arguably the biggest victory in my time at the federation, and that covers 18 years."
The AFL-CIO launched the boycott of Coors products in 1977, when 1,500 members of Local 366 of the old Brewery Workers union walked off their jobs in a dispute over the company's desire to subject its employees to lie-detector tests.
Local Was Decertified
Eventually, Coors replaced the striking workers and the local was decertified by the National Labor Relations Board.
"At this point, all of the strikers who have desired to return to Coors have done so," Kirkland said today. "And the company has taken a series of initiatives to improve its record on employee rights and on individual rights generally."
Three AFL-CIO unions--the United Auto Workers, the Machinists and the Operating Engineers--had expressed interest in and devoted resources toward organizing Coors production workers in recent years.
According to labor sources, Peter Coors had been negotiating with AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Thomas A. Donahue to try to end the dispute since shortly after taking over the day-to-day brewery operations from his father, Joseph Coors, in 1985.
As a measure of the boycott's effectiveness, virtually every Coors poster in New York City has been defaced with "Boycott Coors" stickers. In Denver, a huge "BOYCOTT COORS" sign sits atop the city's AFL-CIO headquarters.
Coors is currently the only non-union major brewer in the United States.