Beverage distributor workers go on strike

AUSTINTOWN – About 23 truck drivers and warehouse workers for a local beverage distributor hit the picket lines early Tuesday morning after working without a labor contract since June 1.

“I will stay out here all summer if I have to,” said striking worker Mike Tonkinson of Hubbard. He was among about a dozen pickets who sat in lawn chairs holding “On Strike” signs at the R.L. Lipton Distribution LLC warehouse, 425 Victoria Road.

Pickets, represented by Teamsters Local 377, declined to comment, instead referring questions to a union spokesman. The local’s president, Rich Sandberg, said issues deal with wages, particularly starting wages for new hires, and health care benefits.

Sandberg said the union hopes new talks will be scheduled soon. While the sides talked as late as Sunday, he said that last significant negotiating session was held Thursday.

The company, which distributes Anheuser Busch, Yuengling, Monster and other beverages, only last month moved into the Austintown building from McClurg Road in Boardman.

Coincidentally, R.L. Lipton now is located in the same building that once was the site of a lengthy violent labor strike involving Superior Beverage in the summer of 1995. At that time, tensions had led to violence after replacement workers began distributing beverages on the routes of striking workers also had been represented by Teamsters Local 377.

Tuesday, striking workers were much more peaceful as they waved at passing motorists who honked their horns in support. Empty beverage trucks remained parked in the lot as several security guards patrolled the parking lot on foot.

The company referred media questions to Cleveland attorney Alan G. Ross. A message left for him was not immediately returned.