Under the Dome

Berger teams with Teamsters on brewery

Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican, speaks to brewery workers Tuesday in his home district from a Teamsters Local 391 pickup truck.
Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican, speaks to brewery workers Tuesday in his home district from a Teamsters Local 391 pickup truck. Teamsters Local 391

Dome is going to file a photo taken Tuesday of Senate leader Phil Berger under the heading, “sights we never thought we’d see.”

On Tuesday, Berger, a Republican, climbed into the back of a pickup truck to speak to gathered brewery workers from the MillerCoors plant in Eden, which is Berger’s hometown. The topic was efforts to preserve jobs threatened by the announced closing of the brewery. More than 500 jobs are at stake if the plant closes as planned in late 2016.

The pickup truck wasn’t any ordinary truck. It was one painted with the logo and other information for the Teamsters Local 391, the powerful labor union local that covers a large part of North Carolina.

The union, which represents more than 400 of the brewery workers, is active in trying to stop the closure.

Republicans in North Carolina have been frequently critical of labor unions and related associations – and the Teamsters have been critical of Republicans.

In 2013, for example, the Teamsters said in a blog post that “extremists” in North Carolina had ignored “turmoil caused by their anti-worker agenda” and pushed forward with bills to “empower corporations and savage the middle class.” The union was speaking about that year’s budget and other bills backed by Berger.

This month, though, the Teamsters and Berger are getting along.

Berger has led efforts to raise questions about the timing of the brewery shutdown by MillerCoors as it coincides with a massive brewer merger. Writing to U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, a fellow Republican, Berger asked a series of pointed questions and concluded: “This merger should not proceed until the people of Rockingham County, and all of North Carolina, receive the answers they deserve – and until reasonable steps are taken to protect these jobs.”

Union organizers attended a hearing in Washington last week that aired some of the concerns raised in the letter. In a news release, the Teamsters quoted several members expressing concern about the closure and its effect in Eden.

“It is not too late for MillerCoors to change course,” said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters General President. “We call on MillerCoors to work with us and with officials from North Carolina to save good jobs and keep this state-of-the-art brewery operating.”

That effort continued Tuesday, with Berger and others speaking up at the rally.

Brian Lewis, a lobbyist working with the Teamsters on the issue, tweeted from the event: “We appreciate #NCGA @SenatorBerger standing strong w Eden Miller workers today.”

On second thought, Dome will file this photo of Berger under a different heading – “all politics is local.”

J. Andrew Curliss