San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing holds the distinction of being 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. Now, the brewery is flirting with another pioneering place in the industry. On Thursday (2.07), about 70 brewery employees officially filed notice of their intent to unionize.
“This large “craft” brewery employs about 100 workers at a single production facility in SF. The craft brewing industry has essentially no union labor and hides its exploitation behind a hip industry profile. Anchor was actually recently acquired by the multinational Sapporo Co.,” said DSA SF in a statement. “Jobs at Anchor Steam used to be regarded as some of the best in the city. But as the cost of living continued to rise significantly, wages stagnated. We stand in solidarity with Anchor Brewery workers who are sick of poverty wages, inaccessible benefits, and a lack of respect.”
Almost a year ago, a group of workers teamed up with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)’s Labor Organizing Committee and then the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (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.
With SF’s Beer Week in full force over the last seven days, the group announced seized on the moment to announce themselves to the public. They held a rally, launched social media, and created a MoveOn.org petition.
Most importantly, the employees informed management, now a Sapporo subsidiary, that over 50% of the work force signed onto the union plan. That means that ownership has the option of officially recognizing the union immediately.
Anchor Brewing did not respond to requests for comment from this or any other media outlet.
However, if management refuses to recognize the union, the signees will then have the right to petition the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and demand that an election be held on the matter. Organizers told media that they are prepared to take the latter step if necessary.
If the union gains recognition through either route (and, they most likely will), negotiations on a new, collective contract for the employees will begin.
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 the 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)