Anchor Brewing Workers Unionize

Wages have dropped despite the craft brew industry's recent boom, leading Anchor Brewing employees to launch its first union.

Since 1896, Anchor Brewing has been churning out hoppy brews to San Franciscans, surviving catastrophic earthquakes, Prohibition, and the boom of the craft-beer scene. Now, the company — which beer giant Sapporo bought in 2017 — faces a new challenge. On Thursday, about 70 of the brewery’s workers filed their intent to unionize. If successful, Anchor will be one of the first craft breweries nationwide to do so. 

The effort started more than a year ago when a group of Anchor employees — among them several Democratic Socialists of America members — came to the local DSA’s Labor Organizing Committee. Together with the DSA, they connected to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), and for the past year, have been rallying the troops. 

As the city partakes in Beer Week, the labor organizers came out swinging on Thursday. Anchor Union launched a Twitter account, a MoveOn petition to garner broader support, and will hold a rally at 24th Street BART Station at 6 p.m.

“Workers an Anchor Brewery at sick of poverty wages, inaccessible benefits, and lack of respect,” the petition read. “The work we do is exhausting and we have to keep moving farther and driver longer to survive. We deserve a chance to be #anchoredinsf too.”

In 2017, craft beers brought in $26 billion in sales and accounted for more than 23 percent of the country’s overall beer market, according to the Brewer’s Association. California takes the cake nationwide with more than 8,000 brewery jobs as of 2016 — nearly triple the number of jobs in 2006, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2017. But over that same period, average weekly wages decreased 25 percent.

Garrett Kelly, a full-time Anchor employee, can speak to declining wages and benefits. When he joined the company three years ago, he says starting pay was $15.50, sick time capped out at 180 hours, paid lunches were 45 minutes long, and three percent of his income toward 401(k) was matched. 

Now, the latter is nonexistent, paid lunch is down to 30 minutes unpaid, and sick time maximums were cut in half Starting pay was $17.25 about four or five years ago and recently bumped up to $16.60, Kelly adds. (An Anchor Brewing representative did not immediately respond for comment.)  

“It’s a tale as old as time — it’s just a concentration of wealth a the top with a complete disregard for workers,” says Kelly. “Currently, we hope management will act in good faith.”

Kelly adds that they are ready to file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board if need be, triggering an election in the coming weeks to secure a living wage. All but a few of the employees, production and taproom alike, already signed the filing petition.

Where other beer companies are unionized, including the nation’s biggest brewing company Anheuser-Busch InBev, craft beer workers are not. Plus, those workers may work for smaller companies that are exempt from legal obligations to offer health care. 

Anchor Brewing employees, bringing forward the first known unionization attempt, could begin to change that.

“The craft brewing industry has essentially no union labor and is rife with exploitation disguised by the industry’s ‘hip’ profile,” wrote a DSA networking account on Twitter. “We believe this is one of the first major attempts to unionize the workforce of a craft brewery, and hope it could lead to more unionization across the industry.”

For what it’s worth, unionized workers at a Sapporo subsidiary in Canada went on strike in 2017 until an agreement was reached. But Kelly hopes that people will think about the people behind the bottle and be excited to drink their union-made beers from the country’s first craft brewery.

“We believe that if Anchor Brewing wants to be a San Francisco brand, an icon…then the company needs to justly compensate their employees so we can live here and exist as citizens of the city,” Kelly says. 

Anchor Brewing workers and supporters will rally outside the 24th Street Mission BART station from 6 to 8 p.m.

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