April 10, 2010

Obviously, American unions have a lot to learn when it comes to on-the-job perks:

HOJE-TAASTRUP, Denmark—Michael Christiansen, a truck driver turned union representative, is fighting hard to preserve one of the last, best perks of the beer industry: the right to drink on the job.

Mr. Christiansen's union brethren are wort boilers, bottlers, packers and drivers at Carlsberg A/S, Denmark's largest brewer. For a century, they've had the right to cool off during a hard day's work with a crisp lager.

But on April 1, the refrigerators were idled and daily beer spoils were capped at three pint-sized plastic cups from a dining hall during lunch hour.

"This is a right workers have had for 100 years," Mr. Christiansen says. "Carlsberg has taken it away without any negotiating at all."

This week, Mr. Christiansen led a strike of 260 Carlsberg employees at a distribution center in this Copenhagen suburb. On Wednesday, 500 workers at Carlsberg's Fredericia brewery in southern Denmark joined in. On Friday afternoon, Mr. Christiansen sent his men back to work temporarily after management agreed to renegotiate workers' right to free beer in coming weeks.

Mr. Christiansen, a tall man with a salt-and-pepper goatee, argues the right to tip a cold one at work is as sacred as other rights enjoyed by Copenhagen-based Carlsberg workers, such as a year's sick leave at full pay, an average annual salary of $59,000 and two free crates of beer monthly.

At 2 p.m. here Friday, about 100 workers congregated in a parking lot full of empty beer crates and forklifts and agreed to temporarily end their strike.

"We need to keep our beer," said employee Juseif Izaivi, 32 years old. "I need a beer when I take a cigarette break."

Drunkenness isn't a problem, workers argued. "There is sometimes some whistling and maybe some singing, but that's not connected to the drinking," said Martin Juralowicz, a 31-year-old forklift operator.

Workday drinking used to be commonplace at breweries around the world. But the practice has faded amid concerns about workplace accidents, productivity losses and drunken driving. Carlsberg is one of the few big breweries where it's still condoned.

But the brewer's management frets that tippling on the job is a risky anachronism, especially for those operating heavy equipment. Although the alcohol-related accident rate is "close to zero," according to Carlsberg spokesman Jens Bekke, there are other issues at stake. Research shows drinking can make productivity go flat. "You can't have all these discussions about corporate social responsibility and allow this," Mr. Bekke says.

Even under the new rules, drivers of Carlsberg's 600 beer trucks, vans and cars can still drink up to three bottles of brew daily. But now company vehicles come equipped with an Alcolock, a device drivers must blow into before turning on the ignition. If the device detects excessive alcohol, the vehicle won't start.

When he says "corporate social responsibility," does he mean the "responsibility" to make more money? Because that's what it sounds like to me.

Can you help us out?

For 18 years we have been exposing Washington lies and untangling media deceit, but now Facebook is drowning us in an ocean of right wing lies. Please give a one-time or recurring donation, or buy a year's subscription for an ad-free experience. Thank you.


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.