Latrobe Brewery reopens to bottle Iron City
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Taps are on, yeast is fermenting and employees are back to work at the former Rolling Rock brewery in Latrobe.
But with less work to do than in past years and dozens of brewers in Lawrenceville out of work, the reopening is bittersweet.
The brewery, now owned by City Brewing Co., of LaCrosse, Wis., opened for business last week to bottle for a new company -- Iron City.
But as members of Locals 22 and 144B returned to the line after an eight-month layoff, 50 employees at the Lawrenceville plant were laid off by the closing there. Many of them are in the same unions, under different contracts.
"I feel bad for them because I went through that. I don't know what to tell them," said Doug Hughes, a label operator at the Latrobe plant.
Denny Holzer, a 28-year employee, said he empathizes with employees in Lawrenceville, but is glad to be back to work and excited about the impact the brewery's July 22 reopening could have on his hometown.
"We needed to get back," he said. "It was good for not only employees, but for the community."
He noted that on top of taxes Latrobe will collect from employees, the community will cash in on the brewery's high-volume water use.
"This not only puts revenue back into the community, it restores our pride."
Controller Zack Mazzoni said brewery officials would like to re-establish plant tours and a community baseball team the brewery had when it was owned by Rolling Rock. The focus for now, however, is on increasing production.
In the past, Mr. Mazzoni said, the brewery produced an average of 45,000 cases of beer per day, but put out only 4,400 cases its first day of bottling for Iron City. He said the ultimate goal is to produce about 15,000 cases for every eight- to 10-hour shift.
Mr. Holzer said the dramatic decrease in production is the result of changing times, in which beer companies contract brewers for work rather than brewing their products in-house.
Under Rolling Rock's ownership, he said, the brewery ran three production lines per day. The contract City Brewery signed with Iron City has the company running a single line.
"We're in a co-packaging business and we're owned by City Brewery, which doesn't have their own product," he said. "We have to package for other people. That makes it hard to get a long contract for years where you can reach full employment."
And while Local 144B members said they would like to see their Lawrenceville brethren working again, there would have to be a drastic increase in production for the brewery to exhaust its list of local workers, let alone tap another list.
While Mr. Mazzoni acknowledged such a scenario is unlikely, he did not rule it out.
"If there ever comes a time when we want to get guys from Lawrenceville, that would mean we're doing good here," he said. "That would be great."
First Published July 30, 2009 12:00 am