Brewery employees tell the Gazette that more than a quarter of the operations staff is expected to be laid off next week.
Employees, who had to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, say between 50 and 80 employees are in play. The company implies they’ll be furloughed, but employees fear the cuts are permanent.
With about 300 employees in operations, that could mean a reduction of 16%-27%.
“They are penny-pinching to the hilt,” one source told the Gazette. “They are just cutting, cutting, cutting.”
AB InBev continues to shed costs to meet billions in debt service from the acquisition. To compound matters, the beer industry is losing market share to wine and other drinks.
St. Louis is telling local management that the recession is to blame, but some remain skeptical.
Several managers have already been let go, and 10 more are expected next week.
Most employees have run out of paid leave, having already taken furlough days.
Cleaning, maintenance and landscaping staff hours have all been reduced, and the plant no longer runs on Sundays.
Still, company executives are telling employees that production will remain level. A meeting was scheduled last Friday to discuss the layoffs, but it was canceled for lack of information, employees say.
Employees contend that union reps are trying to negotiate early retirement for at least some of the employees, but AB InBev is reportedly resistant to pay out the health benefits.
Teamster rep Mike Brooks said he couldnt’ confirm the reports of 50-80 jobs. “That’s not what I’m being told,” he said Tuesday. “Not of that magnitude, no. We’ve been in a down production time for the entire year. It’s a business that is up and down. Hopefully it’s not going to be something long-lived.”
Both he and general manager Rick Shippey said that the schedules are announced week-to-week based on production needs.
“From time to time, the operational needs of the brewery dictate a temporary reduction in manpower,” Shippey said in an e-mail response. “We work to gain these reductions through volunteers who welcome the time off.”
When there are not enough volunteers, the labor contract allows for temporary layoffs, Shippey said.
“This practice is not new,” he said. “We have enacted voluntary time off and temporary layoffs for many years. We review staffing levels weekly to ensure we are meeting the operational needs of the brewery.”
Shippey said employees retain full benefits and are eligible for unemployment benefits.
Cuts here are in line with layoffs elsewhere in AB InBev. Last week The Wall Street Journal reported that the company would cut 90 jobs in its sales division, and another 350 would follow as part of a restructuring effort. The Journal noted that AB InBev plans to save about $90 million a year through job reductions, citing an unnamed source familiar with the restructuring plan. Since buying Anheuser-Busch in 2008, InBev has eliminated more than 1,400 U.S. jobs.