Johnson Brothers Strikers Take Their Fight to the Customers
For more ideas on taking your campaign to consumers, see the Steward's Corner by Robert M. Schwartz, "How to Picket Stores That Sell Your Employer's Products."
Striking delivery drivers in Rhode Island are providing a good example of what you can do with a small squad of roving picketers. The drivers, who deliver wine and liquor for Johnson Brothers of Rhode Island, have been targeting stores and restaurants that are accepting scab deliveries.
After voting to join Teamsters Local 251 in September 2020, the seven drivers went on strike in May over the company’s refusal to raise wages or improve health care and retirement benefits. They make as little as $15 an hour, but are expected to pay $20,000 in premiums and deductibles for family health insurance.
The workers are picketing outside the Johnson Brothers warehouse every day. “They’re very insecure about our presence,” said striker Stephen Silva.
But strikers haven’t just stayed put outside the warehouse. To pressure Johnson Brothers to settle, they’re hitting the company wherever they can.
Johnson Brothers is Rhode Island’s exclusive distributor of Gallo wines, including the brands Carlo Rossi and Ecco Domani. So strikers have been leafleting outside liquor stores that continue to stock these products, holding a big banner that says, “This Store Too High a Price for Wine.”
They’ve also been conducting ambulatory picketing, where they follow the scab trucks from the warehouse to liquor stores and restaurants, and set up pickets there. Quite a few stores have refused deliveries as a result.
“I think we’re delivering some knockout punches,” said Silva. “[Johnson Brothers] is not putting as much material, and I think Gallo’s unhappy with that.”
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Other Teamster delivery drivers are keeping the union informed of which stores are still stocking Gallo products, so the union can target them.
Local 251 has also targeted restaurants like Pizzeria Uno, P.F. Chang’s, and Buffalo Wild Wings—holding up a banner that says “Health Code Violations Make Us Sick” with a big photo of a man coughing. Some diners see it and take their business elsewhere.
At the Cheesecake Factory, strikers distributed leaflets headlined “Rodent Droppings, Unsafe Food?” The leaflets listed health code violations found by Rhode Island health inspectors—gathered by the union from publicly available inspection reports.
“If these practices make you sick,” the leaflet read, “it should be no surprise that Cheesecake Factory gets their wine and spirits from Johnson Brothers of RI. Johnson Brothers treats its Rhode Island workers in a way that will turn your stomach.”
The union also has an electronic billboard up in Providence urging Rhode Islanders to boycott Carlo Rossi and Barefoot wines and High Noon seltzers—all Gallo products.
The strikers have also picketed their general manager’s two (!) houses in Massachusetts; they hit the Cape Cod home on the 4th of July, one of the biggest beach days of the year.
And to thank one store that has refused scab deliveries, they organized a shop-in. Other members of Local 251 joined the strikers in dropping some dollars at Marty’s Liquors in Warwick. The local has asked members to nominate their favorite liquor stores, bars, or restaurants for future group visits.
Find links to the leaflets mentioned above on the Teamsters Local 251 Facebook page. For more information on how to stay within the law when using these tactics—including an entire chapter on ambulatory picketing—check out No Contract, No Peace! A Legal Guide to Contract Campaigns, Strikes, and Lockouts by Robert M. Schwartz, $20 at the Labor Notes online store.