Unionized Anheuser-Busch workers in contract talks with their employer say they are prepared to strike as early as next week if the negotiations collapse.
Eyeing a Sunday evening deadline for the talks, scores of employees at the brewer's sprawling Van Nuys plant walked a makeshift picket line Thursday, with many carrying signs saying they were "just practicing."
But a spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 896 said the workers were ready for a real work stoppage.
"If we're lucky, they'll come to an agreement," said spokesman Ed Kinsbursky. "From what I've been told, it doesn't look good."
Talks over a new multiyear contract between the Teamsters, which represents about 8,000 workers at the company's 12 plants, and the St. Louis-based beer titan began in November. The previous contract was to expire last Sunday but has been extended to this Sunday, brewery officials said.
Negotiators, meeting in Atlanta, are focusing on worker absenteeism, overtime pay and dispute resolution procedures, company and union spokesmen said. If and when the negotiators develop a draft contract, the union locals must ratify it, Kinsbursky said.
Workers at the Van Nuys plant staged two picket lines Thursday, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Workers who walked the line, Kinsbursky said, did so either before their shift started or after it ended.
Plant manager Gary Lee said he wasn't rankled by the pickets.
"They haven't been disruptive at all," Lee said. "They're just out there voicing their opinions. Any time you get close to a deadline, people are more anxious."