Different Approach That Worked

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New film details how locked-out workers resolved a labour dispute peacefully by Jon MacNeill

Locked out by management at Moosehead Breweries last February, the workers of Union Local 362 could have responded with bully tactics, and called for a boycott of the storied lager.

"We went out and said, 'No, we love this company. This is an argument and we've got to get through it, do us a favour and drink the beer," said Sheldon Garland from his home in Saint John. "Deplete their stock so they can bring us back to work."

Garland, a Moosehead employee of seven years and a Vancouver Film School graduate, directed a documentary chronicling the 38-day lockout which began Feb. 20, 2011.

Drink 'Em Dry explores how the union garnered public support and leverage over management without vilifying the company, and examines what the international labour movement can learn from their approach.

"It's not a knock'em down, drag'em out story of a labour dispute," said Tom Mann, executive director of the New Brunswick Union of Public and Private Employees, which represents Local 362 and produced the doc. "It's more about how you get to a win-win solution."

The 48-minute film premiered last month at the Harvard Trade Union Program in Boston, where Garland brushed shoulders with international labour leaders while sipping Moosehead at the reception.

This month it's headed to Pittsburgh to air at a United Association of Labour Educators conference. "People love the fact that for once there's going to be something out there that's positive for unions. Because in the past, all you ever see from unions is the negative, people yelling at each other."

That's not how the 172 workers of Local 362 played it.

"We're all very proud to be working at Moosehead, so for us to boycott, to kill our market share and to hurt our company - it wouldn't have been a smart move," Garland said.

Instead, knowing the company would eventually run out of product without new beer getting bottled, they encouraged sales and toughed it out through double-digit lows and fierce snowstorms on the picket line.

"We attacked the inventory of the company rather than the product," Mann said.

"It was victory - one beer at a time."

When talks resumed, the union had a solution that satisfied both party's needs in the dispute, which was about post-retirement benefits.

"You don't have to go the violent, reactive way to approach a situation like that," Garland said. "We used our head instead of our emotions. It was about people bonding together, the critical thinking, the community support and the solidarity among the group."

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Negotiations started: Dec. 22, 2010 Company locked out Local 362: Feb. 20, 2011. Negotiations resumed: Mar. 16, 2011 New contract signed: Mar. 30, 2011 Lockout length: 38 days Employees affected: 172 Work hours lost: 374,000 Conditions on the picket line Temperature range: High 11.5 C; Low -21.1 C Snowfall: 18.7 cm over 23 days. 54 cm accumulated at deepest. Rainfall: 83.3 mm over nine days.

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