Garrett Kelly, center, and Brace Belden to the right, with fellow workers and labor activists at the Feb. 7 rally at 24th Street to publicize the union drive at Anchor Brewery Company. Photo by Elizabeth Creely

Employees of San Francisco’s venerable Anchor Brewing gathered at the 24th Street BART plaza Thursday evening with members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the labor committee of the Democratic Socialists of America hours after launching a union drive at their Potrero Hill plant.

Earlier that day, Anchor workers delivered a letter to the management of Anchor Brewing Company, announcing their intent to unionize the brewery. It would be the first unionized craft brewery in San Francisco and in the country.

BART commuters exiting the station grew confused as the plaza quickly filled with Anchor workers, unionized longshoremen and DSA activists. The mood in the plaza was jubilant. DSA members and Anchor workers planned to distribute flyers and posters in bars on and around 24th Street.

“We’re helping to announce the union drive, and our support of workers in America,” said Sarah Jane Holcombe, a DSA member.

Workers charge that their wages have stagnated after Sapporo acquired Anchor in 2017. Garrett Kelly has worked for Anchor for three years in the fermentation department and makes $18.35 an hour.

“I want to spread the word and show management at Anchor what solidarity and worker power looks like,” said Kelly, who commutes from Oakland. He said that management wasn’t happy when the workers announced their intent to unionize.

“Management corralled us into an empty conference room, asked if we were on the clock, and said no one could meet with us,” said Kelly. He hopes that Anchor Brewing management will negotiate with them in good faith, but says plans to proceed are in place regardless.

“We gave management 48 hours to respond,” Kelly said. “But we’re going to file with the National Labor Relation Board in a few weeks, whether management supports that or not.”

The new union would be part of ILWU Warehouse Union Local 6, which is based in Oakland, and represents warehouse workers across the bay area.

“We represent Bayer Pharmacy, Guittard Chocolate, workers in recycling in Alameda. A broad spectrum of companies and manufacturers belong to Local 6,” said Agustin Ramirez, lead organizer for the ILWU in Northern California.

Other ILWU members thought the partnership between brewers and the union was a natural fit.

“Our warehouse division represents  wine distributors, like Gallo wines, so it makes perfect sense for this group of workers,” said Samantha Levens, who’s with the marine division of the ILWU. “I know people like to purchase union made beer. It’s kind of a selling point,” she continued. “This is a great group of people and I think this rally shows that the workers have a lot of support.”

Kelly agreed. “This is a grassroots, bottom-up organizing effort by Anchor Brewing workers,” he said, looking over the jubilant crowd. He gave high marks to the San Francisco DSA labor organizing committee. “They gave us space to meet in. They’ve been completely helpful.”

Before fanning out to the bars, labor organizers, DSA activists and brewery workers made speeches into a bullhorn, exhorting the Anchor employees to stay resolute. After promising the workers that the ILWU will be there “every step of the way,” Ramirez led the crowd in a chant.

“What time is it?” Ramirez yelled into the bullhorn.

“Union Time!” the crowd yelled back.

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