Boozy Sledder Loses His Job - Was Viral Video To Blame?

Feb 14, 2022 at 7:14 am

On February 3, during the first heavy snowfall of the season, Kris Naeger and Kevin Venice became St. Louis legends.

In a short video posted to Twitter, Post-Dispatch photographer David Carson captured the two men — 45 and 34, respectively — on Art Hill, surrounded by much younger sledders. As puffy flakes fell, the men held aloft half-drunk cans of Busch, with shooters of Fireball at the ready.

“I’m sledding, having fun,” said Naeger. “Got the week off of work, thanks to the snow.”

Venice raised his can in salute.

They then proceeded to show off their sleds: black, ridged contraptions that were actually repurposed dumpster lids. Since stores were sold out of actual sleds and toboggans, the duo simply unpinned their apartment’s dumpster covers and brought them to the Saint Louis Art Museum’s famous hill. (In case you’re wondering, yes, they disinfected the lids beforehand.)

It was all in good fun, and the video of two fully grown, fully bearded men catching the spirit of childhood went viral. In the aftermath, Venice tried to leverage his fifteen minutes of fame to find love, posting the sledding pictures on his Hinge and Bumble accounts, though he was not successful.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. Shortly after the video’s release, Venice lost his job as an HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) employee. According to coworkers, the video was the cause.

Naeger’s comments in the video elucidated the men’s employment. “I’m IBEW Local 1,” he told the camera, noting that Venice was a non-union “scab,” but “still my buddy.”

It seemed like a funny aside, but the fact that Naeger, a communications technician, is union, while Venice is not, may be why Naeger still has a job.

IBEW stands for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and Naeger’s powerful branch began in St. Louis in 1891. As for Venice, he tells the Riverfront Times he recently moved to St. Louis from Quincy, Illinois. Three months into an on-site training program (he asked us not to mention the name of his former employer), he got injured while lifting a heavy object, hyperextending his arm, pulling his muscles and pinching his nerves.

click to enlarge Kevin Venice - Devin Thomas O'Shea
Devin Thomas O'Shea
Kevin Venice

“I lifted something too heavy, and [my arm] said, ‘Nope.’” He was prescribed painkillers and told to keep his arm in a sling, which he dutifully did.

Except, that is, when he went sledding. At Art Hill, he removed the sling because he had so many layers of coats on, he says.

Considering he was receiving workman’s comp, he realizes now how his boozy cavorting might have looked bad. But at the time it didn’t occur to him that appearing on tape might cost him his job. “I didn’t even think about it. Who would have thought two guys drinking Busch beers on dumpster sleds would go viral?”

He says he was only given the vaguest reason for his firing — “work ethic.” But privately, coworkers told him it was because he was caught on camera without his sling, he said.

Venice’s employer tells us his termination was unrelated to the Art Hill incident, and that human resources had no knowledge of the video, or of Venice’s appearance on the front page of the Post-Dispatch.

Whatever the case, Venice claims no grudge against the company, and would be happy to work for them again, he says. He’s seeking new HVAC employment locally. “I really don’t want to move back to Quincy,” he pleads. He has set up a GoFundMe page (titled "He works hvac he's a scab but he's my buddy”), but it had only raised $20 at the time of this story.

For his part, the orange-capped Naeger doesn’t believe his IBEW affiliation helped him dodge punishment. Still, he views the whole experience rosily, even with the snow now mostly melted. “I have an immense amount of gratitude to St. Louis and all those that took time to throw out some positive comments,” he says. “The soul of St. Louis runs deep in my heart.”

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