Anheuser-Busch, the iconic company known for its popular beer brands such as Bud Light, now faces a brewing storm as 99% of its employees represented by the Teamsters union have voted in favor of a strike. The looming labor showdown threatens to disrupt beer production across the United States in 2024.
The root of this crisis can be traced back to a controversial ad campaign featuring transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney, who ignited a massive backlash against Bud Light in early 2023. The move, seen as a pivot towards ‘woke’ culture, led to a significant boycott spearheaded by certain media outlets and personalities, including Kid Rock and more.
As a result, Bud Light’s sales continued to suffer, losing its position as America’s top-selling beer to Modelo Especial. The threatened strike, largely due to lagging wages, now comes at a critical juncture for Anheuser-Busch less than a year later.
The company’s workers are demanding significant wage increases, job security, and improvements to retirement and benefits. The demands reflect a broader sentiment among the workforce, who feel that their wages have not kept pace with inflation and the rising cost of living. The discontent has been reportedly palpable among both long-tenured and newer employees, with the latter facing higher medical benefit costs due to a two-tiered healthcare system established in a 2019 contract.
Teamsters union President Sean O’Brien is pushing for a stronger contract. O’Brien, who is known for securing a record contract gain at UPS last year, called for Anheuser-Busch to respect its workers. The union’s stance was clear: if the company fails to negotiate a fair agreement, it will face a nationwide walkout for the first time in its history.
“Without a contract by February 29, there won’t be any beer come March,” the union wrote on X. “Teamsters voted by 99 percent to authorize a #strike if this multibillion-dollar corporation fails to deliver a fair contract.”
“A raise, better health care, pension benefits, security for all 12 breweries, that’s all very important,” said Mark Buffington, a member of Teamsters Local 947.
5,000 Teamster union members work at Anheuser-Busch at a dozen U.S. breweries.
— Teamsters (@Teamsters) January 8, 2024
Last year Anheuser-Busch faced significant backlash after Bud Light released a campaign featuring Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender activist. The campaign included personalized Bud Light cans with Mulvaney’s face to celebrate his “girlhood” anniversary.
The controversy led to financial impacts for Anheuser-Busch, with reports of decreased sales of Bud Light products. Anheuser-Busch’s CEO, Brendan Whitworth, responded to the backlash, stating that the company never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people and emphasized its goal of bringing people together.
Additionally, there was a staffing shake-up at Anheuser-Busch following this incident. Bud Light’s marketing VP Alissa Heinerscheid, who had been instrumental in devising the partnership with Mulvaney, took a leave of absence in June.
Meet Alissa Heinerscheid, Bud Light’s VP of Marketing. She explains her strategy of using “inclusive” marketing to promote the brand to young people.
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) April 9, 2023
For Anheuser-Busch, the stakes are high. The company, still grappling with the fallout from its ‘woke’ marketing decisions, now faces the added pressure of a potential strike that could halt its operations across 12 facilities in the U.S.