Employees at San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing cracked open a few cold ones last night—and for good reason. A year long campaign to organize the workforce culminated with a 31-16 vote in favor of unionization on Wednesday (3.13). The union is the first in the craft beer world.
The successful vote placed the workers under the umbrella of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 6 as well as grant them recognition by the National Labor relations Board (NLRB).
Technically, ownership, which following a buyout is Sapporo Co, could contest the election in the next ten days. However, reaction statements from the corporation tacitly recognized the union making that route very unlikely.
“Anchor Brewing Company employees voted today to unionize, marking a major milestone for our brewery and the industry as a whole. Anchor is proud of its long history of firsts, which ignited the modern craft beer movement,” said a spokesperson for Sapporo. “We look forward to discussions with the newly formed union and strengthening our collective future with all of our employees.”
The workers pushed a platform focused on job security, better wages, and improved/restored benefits.
Next up for the new union is an attempt to deliver on those promises. A bargaining team comprised of employees will sit down with Anchor and Sapporo management to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement (aka a contract).
Anchor is one of the longest operating breweries in America (since 1896) as well as one of the first producers to embrace the craft movement at the end of the 20th century.
A year ago, a group of workers teamed up with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)’s Labor Organizing Committee and then the ILWU to begin the process. The organizers started signing up employees of both Anchor’s Anchor’s brew and bottling plant in the Potrero Hill neighborhood as well as the adjacent (technically, across the street) taproom Anchor Public Taps. (The Taps vote on Friday.)
The Bureau of Labor statistics reported that despite growth in the craft beer industry nationally, average wages dropped about 25% over the last decade. Anchor workers echoed that sentiment, complaining about low pay including many jobs starting at minimum wage. In addition, they cited reduced lunch time, reduced sick days, and the elimination of beer privileges as key points in a new contract.
Another complicating matter is the cost of living in San Francisco, the highest in the nation. “Anchor workers should be paid enough to live in San Francisco. We’re struggling to survive and raise our families,” the union declared in their original petition. “The work we do is exhausting – and we have to keep moving farther and driving longer to survive. We deserve a chance to be #anchoredinsf too.”
It’s not just Bay Area specific conditions that make this case significant. While most of Big Beer is unionized, collective bargaining is rare in the craft world. Despite the size of the market, employees often work for little money as a tradeoff for a “cool job.” Attempts to remedy this system through organized labor have been largely unsuccessful. A victory at a high profile brewery like Anchor would surely be a boost to the movement.
Photo Courtesy of @AnchorUnion