Monday June 29, 2009
Former union leader Dave Kelly, who worked at Iron City for 34 years -- 32 years longer than Mr. Hickman has been there -- offered a more historical perspective on the move, expected for months by Iron City's tapped-out workers.
"Well, you finally did it," Mr. Kelly, who retired in October, said of Mr. Hickman.
"You managed to take a brewery that has been through the Industrial Revolution, the Civil War, two world wars, Korean War, Vietnam War and the Iraq war -- even the Great Depression -- [and] move it out of the city that has supported you since 1861."
Mr. Hickman, who has repeatedly affirmed his commitment to brewing in Pittsburgh, said yesterday the Lawrenceville brewery will brew its last batch June 22. After that, production of can, bottle and keg beer will be transferred to the former Latrobe Brewing plant, now owned by City Brewing of La Crosse, Wis., Mr. Hickman said. City Brewing is putting in a new canning line that will be complete in 90 to 150 days, he said.
"This is not a negative thing," he said. "We're moving 40 miles down the road. We don't see that the sales will be impacted."
Beer industry observers said Mr. Hickman is naive if he believes that. They pointed to the sales hit Anheuser-Busch took in Latrobe after purchasing the Rolling Rock label in 2006 and transferring production of the hometown beer to New Jersey.
"That is delusional," said Cris Hoel, a Pittsburgh attorney who specializes in the beverage industry. "They will have steep losses if history is any guide. ... They have some good wholesalers and they have their work cut out for them."
That yesterday morning's announcement confirmed rumors that have circulated for months didn't make it any easier to swallow for union workers, some of whom followed their fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers into the brewery. They were angry that Mr. Hickman has not kept his commitment to Pittsburgh and contested his statement that he has worked with their leaders about preserving as many jobs of the Pittsburgh workers as possible.
"I feel let down by Tim Hickman, disappointed that me and my fellow co-workers are going to be out of a job," said Rich Malter, president of Local 144B at Iron City.
Mr. Malter said Iron City's president told him two weeks ago he was scouring the country for a canning line.
"Hickman reassured us this wasn't going to happen up until today's announcement. It makes it worse that we were lied to," Mr. Malter said. "He can call his beer whatever he wants, but if it's not made at the Lawrenceville plant, it's not going to be Iron City or IC Light."
The announcement caps what Mr. Hoel termed 20 years of mismanagement that has brought "one of the most glorious breweries in the United States to its knees."