Workers Strike at Empire Merchants

Retailers, restaurants, bars and hotels won’t be getting Mouton-Rothschild, Riunite, Rémy Martin or Buffalo Trace.
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The clerical staff and warehouse workers at Empire Merchants, the New York wine and liquor distributor, voted down the company’s contract offer and went on strike Tuesday night.

The company’s two other unions, Teamsters Local 917—which represents the drivers—and Local 2D of the United Food and Commercial Workers—which represents the sales force—are honoring the strike. No talks are scheduled until Friday.

The strike means that Empire’s customers—retailers, restaurants, bars and hotels throughout New York City, Long Island and Westchester County—will not be getting any deliveries, nor will they be able to place new orders. However, the company’s recorded telephone message tells customers to “please be advised reporting to the New York State Liquor Authority will continue, so it is important to follow normal payment schedules.”

There are 17,310 bars and restaurants with active liquor licenses in the region Empire serves, according to figures on the New York State Liquor Authority website. Wine Enthusiast is attempting to total the number of retailers or off-premise licensees in the same region.

Empire Merchants distributes Bordeaux from Barton & Guestier to Mouton-Rothschild, Italian reds from Riunite Lambrusco to Il Poggione Brunello, California wines from Carlo Rossi to Opus One, and Burgundies from Louis Jadot to Domaine Ramonet. When it comes to whiskeys–Bulleit and Buffalo Trace, Oban  and Johnnie Walker, Jose Cuervo and Don Julio, Ketel One and Smirnoff, among many other brands. Its sales force carries a portfolio of offerings in a binder as thick as the Oxford English Dictionary or an old Manhattan phone book.

Calls seeking a comment from Empire Merchants were not returned.

Also last year, Empire fired its chief executive, Lloyd Sobel, and sued him and a co-owner, Charles Merinoff along with others, including Breakthru Beverage CEO Greg Baird, claiming they defrauded the company through their involvement in an interstate smuggling scheme. The civil case remains before U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman.

Published on November 1, 2017
Topics: Latest News
About the Author
Leslie Gevirtz
Contributing Editor, Business

An award-winning journalist, Gevirtz spent more than 20 years covering disasters—natural, political, and financial—before becoming Reuters’ wine correspondent; a beat that guaranteed her colleagues were always glad to see her.



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