COORS ENTERS N.Y. MARKET FACING AN IMAGE PROBLEM LABOR PORTRAYS THE BREWER AS A UNION BUSTER
Syracuse Herald-Journal (NY) – February 10, 1987
Author/Byline: James T. Mulder Staff Writer
Coors, one of the nation’s most popular beers, began flowing in Syracuse for the first time Monday, marking the official entry of the Adolph Coors Co. into New York state market.
While its arrival was welcomed by fans of the Colorado-brewed beer, Coors was quickly denounced by local union officials, who urged Syracuse area residents to join a national boycott of the product.
“When you buy their product you are, in effect, inviting the Coors people into your home,” said Joseph Welch, executive secretary of the Greater Syracuse Labor Council. “I think anyone with a conscience wouldn’t want those kind of people in their homes.”
The labor movement and other organizations have been promoting a boycott of Coors products since 1977 after the brewery workers’ union was broken in a strike. Workers went on strike over what it called “human dignity” issues, including the company’s practice of administering mandatory lie detector tests to job applicants — a policy that was discontinued last year. Boycott promoters have also charged that the Golden, Colo.-based brewery has a history of discriminating against minorities and women.
More recently, the company came under fire after William K. Coors, the company’s chairman and chief executive officer, made what many considered blatant racist remarks before a meeting of minority business owners.
“They (blacks) lack the intellectual capacity to succeed, and it’s taking them down the tubes,” Coors said, according to a 1984 report in the Rocky Mountain News. “One of the best things they (slave traders) did for you is to drag your ancestors over here in chains.”
Rhona William and Theresa Donnelly, two Coors public relations representatives who were in Syracuse Monday to promote the beer’s arrival, rebutted many of the criticisms.
“I heard all the stories about Coors too and believed them until I went to Colorado and found out they aren’t true,” said Williams, who is black. “We’re good corporate citizens and we make a fine quality product.”
More than 21 percent of Coors’ 10,000 employees are women and 17 percent are minorities, Williams said.
In a pending lawsuit against the Rocky Mountain News, William K. Coors claims his remarks about blacks were reported inaccurately, she noted.
Williams said the boycott started after the union was voted out by employees and the union hasn’t attempted to reorganize the workers since.
The union, however, claims striking workers were barred from voting in the decertification election and that Coors has broken 19 unions in 20 years.
As Coors continues to expand in an effort to meet its goal of becoming a national brewer by 1990, Williams acknowledged that the company is waging a war on two fronts: against its competitors in the beer industry and the “union propaganda.”
As the company has grown from a regional to a national brewery, the company has stepped up its public relations efforts to counter the “union issues which hit you state after state,” Williams said.
With its arrival in New York, Coors is now in 47 states and the District of Columbia. New York represents about 10 percent of the national market for beer sales. Coors, the nation’s fifth largest brewer, makes more than 15 million barrels of beer annually.
As the controversy about the company’s track record simmered, Coors on draft started flowing from the taps at Buggsy’s Back Alley Bar near the Syracuse University campus Monday.
Coors and Coors Light in bottles and cans should be available in area stores by the spring, Williams said.
Coors is being distributed in the Syracuse area by Owasco Beverage Corp., which has built a $2.5 million 25,000-square-foot expansion to store the beer. All Coors beer is shipped in refrigerated train cars to preserve the quality of the brew which is only made in one Colorado brewery.
Welch said local labor organizations and other groups involved in the boycott don’t intend to picket retailers and taverns that sell Coors.
The Labor Council intends to compile a list of establishments that refuse to sell Coors, then urge local unions and other “socially-conscious” groups to patronize those establishments, Welch said.
Welch also said the Labor Council intends to ask city and county officials to pass resolutions barring Syracuse and Onondaga County from participating in any activities sponsored by Coors.
Similar resolutions have already been enacted in Boston, Mass., Detroit, Mich. and Santa Cruz, Calif.