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Anchor Brewing Unionizes

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Workers at Potrero Hill’s Anchor Brewing Company – the production facility and Public Taps – voted to unionize last winter.  The action made the “craft-brewery” – if it can be called that, under beer-giant Sapporo’s ownership – an early adopter of labor organizing in the industry.

Anchor Brewing was founded in 1896 in San Francisco. In 2017, Japanese firm Sapporo purchased the company for $85 million. 

Located at 1705 Mariposa Street, Anchor Brewing workers voted to join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), citing poor wages and lack of benefits as the catalyst. According to ILWU’s Northern California lead organizer, Agustin Ramirez, starting pay at Anchor is $16.50, not a livable wage, especially in the City. 

“One other major issue is that a lot of workers are considered part-time, which means they don’t qualify for benefits,” he said. 

Workers were offered less than 30 hours a week, preventing them from qualifying for benefits. The Affordable Care Act dictates that full-time employees – those who work 30 hours per week or 130 hours a month – are eligible for health care insurance. 

“Our goal is for all employees to be covered by health care,” Ramirez said.

After the union vote, the National Labor Relations Board allowed seven days for any company or union to file “objections to the election.” Anchor didn’t dispute the union’s victory, according to Ramirez. In fact, a spokesperson for the Anchor production facility said unionizing marks a major milestone for the company.

“Our priority was to ensure that all of our employees were given the opportunity to vote in a secret ballot election,” the spokesperson said. “We fully respect the results of the vote and are committed to negotiate in good faith with the newly formed union. We look forward to strengthening our collective future with all of our employees.” 

Anchor Brewing employees are collaborating with ILWU to learn the process for electing a bargaining committee as well as other committee members. The bargaining committee’s job is to attend negotiating meetings, and conduct research and fact-finding to ensure that members’ interests are protected. Other committees include the Community and Member action teams. The latter speaks with media and educates elected officials; the former is responsible for internal communications, informing members of negotiations and other items. 

Last month, the new union finalized bargaining committee nominations. The 60 brewery workers and nine Public Taps workers are being surveyed to determine their priorities. 

Jon Ezell started at Anchor Brewing’s bottle shop – the facility where beer is packaged into bottles – in August 2017, just as Sapporo announced it’d purchase the company. He said the campaign to unionize has been a longtime coming. “It took a lot of effort from many people to make it happen,” he said. “Not every employee was happy about the outcome. However, now we are starting to come together again and are preparing to work together for a positive common purpose. I can’t wait!” 

Not all Anchor Brewing workers voted, but of those who participated, 37 endorsed the union, 18 opposed it. Those who voted against didn’t believe unionizing would improve their situation.

Ezell added that he’s looking forward to having a unified voice that can’t be brushed aside. 

Another Anchor employee echoed Ezell’s statements. Patrick Machel, who started at Public Taps in November 2017, after Sapporo’s purchase, said that what makes unionizing appealing is the freedom to create a contract instead of being given one. “We have more power to do what we want,” he said. “I’m honestly looking forward to the negotiations for the contract. I’ve worked in the service industry for a long time, and was told ‘This is the way it goes. If you don’t like it, there’s the door.’ Now we can be at a level table. We can say this is what we want and we can talk to managers at a professional level.”

Machel is looking forward to a raise. He anticipates he won’t have to work two jobs anymore or get four, sometimes three, hours of sleep a night. “There’s a lot of job security joining a union,” he said. “And more pride in my work. I’m a unionized bartender. It sort-of has a ring to it.”

Other than better labor conditions, Anchor Brewing won’t be altered much as a result of unionizing, according to Ramirez. “Bringing in the union does not create changes to way the company operates or conducts business,” he said. “The only change unionizing brings in is now workers have a say in determining their working conditions, benefits, and salaries. I think that we all want this company to succeed. We clearly understand if the company is successful, the workers are successful. At the same time, Anchor has been considered the first place of the craft-beer movement. Now it can be the birth of the craft, unionized, beer movement.” 

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