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How the Pandemic Has Added to Labor Unrest

After the company threatened to bring in replacement workers, the employees were dismissive. “No one can find workers now — where do they think they’ll find 400?” Ms. Glazar, the local union official, said shortly before the strike ended. “That’s the only thing that keeps us smiling out there.”

There were also indications that Heaven Hill was running low on inventory as the strike wore on, crimping the company’s ability to age and bottle alcohol that it produced in Louisville. “We could see the truck movement had slowed down from week one to week six — there were not near as many trucks in and out,” Ms. Glazar said.

Josh Hafer, a company spokesman, said, “There may have been some small-scale products impacted, but not to any large degree.”

Still, the workers were under enormous stress. Their health benefits ended when their contract expired, and some workers found their insurance was no longer valid while trying to squeeze in a final doctor’s appointment.

And while jobs in the area appeared plentiful, many workers preferred to stay in the whiskey-making business. “I like what I do, I enjoy everything about bourbon,” said Austin Hinshaw, a worker who voted to strike at the Heaven Hill plant. “I have worked at a factory before, and it’s not my thing.” In late October, Mr. Hinshaw accepted a job at a distillery in town where he had been applying for months.

A few days earlier, Heaven Hill management had worked out a new agreement with the union. The proposed contract included a commitment to largely maintain the existing overtime pay rules for current workers, though it left open the possibility that future workers would be scheduled on weekends at regular pay, which grated on union members. The company also offered a slightly larger pay increase than it had offered just before the workers’ contract expired in September.

In a statement, Heaven Hill pointed to the generous health benefits and increased wages and vacation time in the new contract.

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