Employees at Craft Brewer Anchor Brewing Company Move to Unionize

San Francisco’s high cost of living is making it increasingly difficult for workers at California’s oldest brewery to stay in the city.

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Feb 8 2019, 8:44pm

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Good beer comes with bad pay—or at least, that’s what some workers are saying about Anchor Brewing Company. As first reported by Splinter, workers at the popular San Francisco brewery announced yesterday that they’re hoping to unionize because of “poverty wages, inaccessible benefits, and lack of respect.”

Anchor’s Unionizing Committee presented a letter to management yesterday, followed by a rally with the San Francisco DSA later in the day, Mission Local reported. While most corporate breweries are already unionized, Anchor is reportedly only the third craft beer brewery to do so.

Anchor Brewing is reportedly California’s oldest brewery. From the 1960s to the early 00s, Anchor was owned by the Maytag family (of the washing machines and the blue cheese), before being sold to the Japanese beer company Sapporo in 2017.

The company itself has grown, but some Anchor workers told Splinter that wages and hours haven’t. Brace Belden, a worker and organizer, told Splinter that Anchor pays him $16.50 an hour. He has to work two jobs in addition to the brewery, and because he’s part-time, he can’t receive benefits.

“Anchor workers should be paid enough to live in San Francisco. We’re struggling to survive and raise our families. The work we do is exhausting—and we have to keep moving farther away and driving longer to survive. We deserve a chance to be #anchoredinsf too,” reads the letter from Anchor workers to management. (The full letter can be found on Splinter.)

Workers want Anchor management to recognize the union, which will be part of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), and also asked that management “remain neutral” and not resort to intimidation, including threatening to limit shifts.

It might not yet be the norm for craft brewers to unionize, but that’s partially a size issue, according to Bart Watson, chief economist of the Brewers Association. “More broadly, even though most craft breweries are not unionized, that is because the vast majority are very small businesses, and most very small businesses aren’t unionized in the U.S,” he wrote to MUNCHIES in an email. Anchor has about 160 employees.

It’s no coincidence that this is all happening in San Francisco. San Francisco and the greater Bay Area have repeatedly been ranked as the most expensive places to live in US. Even for longtime residents, affording life in San Francisco poses daily challenges, especially for minimum wage workers in the service industry.

The minimum wage in San Francisco is currently $15 an hour, but living wage calculators estimate that workers realistically need twice that to live in the city. With the average rent for a studio around $2,500 a month, workers continue to get pushed outside its borders and further into surrounding suburbs in the South and East Bay, where rent prices are also inflating rapidly. As one worker who makes $18.35 an hour told Splinter, Anchor ties itself to the city with branding like #anchoredinSF, but doesn’t ensure that its workers can actually do the same.

Bad pay in beer isn’t a new problem: Numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that despite record-breaking sales of craft beer in 2017, wages for US-based brewers actually declined by a quarter between 2006 and 2016.

It’s not just brewery staff facing unlivable wages, but San Francisco’s entire restaurant industry, which now faces a shortage of workers. While the flow of wealth from the tech industry has increased the number of people who can afford fine dining in SF, food service workers have been increasingly more difficult to find and maintain. That’s led some restaurant owners to seek creative solutions that require less front-of-house labor, such as simplified menus and automated drink machines.

While good for owners, those workarounds don’t create incentive for employers to offer benefits or raise wages to livable standards for the area.

Together, Anchor’s workers hope to push the brewery in a better direction. If they’re successful, we can all sip Anchor Steam knowing that its workers feel a little more secure.

MUNCHIES has reached out to Anchor Brewing Company, the Anchor Union, and the San Francisco DSA for further comment, but has not yet received a response.