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Leinie Strike

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Leinenkugel is not a good beer, no matter what Sconnies think about it. But that hardly means that we can’t support its workers as they strike against their greedy bosses.

John McGillis earned $18 an hour when he started working at Leinenkugel’s brewery in 1990, a top wage befitting a company recognized as a community cornerstone since it began brewing for local lumberjacks in 1867.

Now more than three decades later, McGillis is earning only $5.50 more — a meager increase that prompted him to down tools last week and join 40 colleagues in a picket line outside the brewery’s red-brick walls in a push for better pay. They walked off the job just as Leinenkugel’s was entering the crucial Oktoberfest brewing season.

“We’ve just fallen behind every contract,” McGillis said after wrapping up a strike shift next to a rushing creek, where neighbors have been dropping off doughnuts, pizza and words of encouragement. “We’re behind what everybody else in this area is paying.”

Waving a “Boycott Leinenkugel’s” sign and holding a fist aloft as drivers honked in support, Wade Dehnke said the wage increases the company recently offered the workers’ union won’t begin to keep pace with rising prices. “If you’ve bought groceries lately, if you got your insurance bill lately, it’s just, we’ve been going backwards and backwards,” said Dehnke, a certified welder with several skilled licenses who earns $31.47 an hour after eleven years. Starting wages at the plant are $19 an hour, according to the Teamsters union.

The union is asking you to boycott the beer. So, you know, do so. This is when a boycott matters–when it is a solidarity action, not an action of individualized atomism.

And in case you think this is still an independent operator, Molson Coors bought it long ago.

Moreover, there is some good local solidarity in Wisconsin around the strike:

In a mark of solidarity, several local bars have stopped serving the beer, including Rookies, a watering hole with a giant Leinenkugel’s mural on its outside wall.

On the other side of the Chippewa River, Burly’s bar has taken down its Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy tap and removed the brand’s bottles from its fridge. “I have customers who’ve been coming around for years that work there, so I wanted to support them,” said owner Brian Krista.

A short walk from the brewery, at the annual Northern Wisconsin State Fair, the Leinenkugel’s pavilion was still attracting patrons who were only starting to absorb news of the strike.

Mark Cance, a retiree sipping a Summer Shandy, said he wasn’t ready to boycott the beer.

“They’re a big presence. In the past they’ve always been big contributors to different community functions,” he said of the brewery. “Whether that’s going to hold true in the future with the big out-of-town corporate ownership, we don’t know.

Mark Cancer more like it, amirite?

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