The death knell has sounded once more in 2016, this time to mark the passing of a beloved decades-old practice: Labatt brewery retirees' days of getting free beer for life, a perk the New York Times reports started in the 1970s, are winding to their end. The Canadian company, now owned by beer goliath Anheuser-Busch InBev, confirmed Monday that to cut costs, the retiree beer perk will be halved in 2018, with the freebie ceasing altogether by Jan. 1, 2019. In corporate-speak, per an Oct. 28 memo to employees: "A recent comprehensive review of all the cost management options has led us to conclude that discontinuing free beer is the best course." That review showed "our overall package of pension and retirement benefits are competitive and none of the companies we surveyed offered free product to retirees," per an emailed statement to Postmedia News from a rep for Labatt Breweries Canada.
The company, which employs 3,000, didn't say how much the move will save. While the rep says the specifics of the allocation aren't consistent across all provinces, the CBC explains how the practice has worked up until now at the Edmonton facility: Active employees receive a gift card whose value is equal to 52 cases of 12 beers; nothing changes upon retirement, and upon the worker's death, the card transferred to the spouse. It's not the first time Labatt workers have been walloped: The starting wage of $34 an hour was dropped to $24 for new hires in 2010. "It’s certainly not the way it was in the past, when there was fanatical devotion to the brand and the company," the president of the local union chapter tells the Times. "Today it’s just a job." (Read more brewery stories.)