Anchor Brewing racking room worker Brace Belden’s hands were shaking when he wandered out of the factory to announce that employees had voted, by a 2-to-1 margin, to unionize. “I am feeling very juiced,” he said, dropping a cigarette onto the pavement. “I am fucking ecstatic. I spent every waking hour for the past year thinking about this. This is one of the happiest days of my life.”
By a 31-to 16-vote, employees on the factory side of the brewery today opted to organize with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local No. 6. The nine service workers across the street at Anchor Public Taps will vote on Friday. Today was a successful culmination of a clandestine organization process that lasted more than a year. In February, the process went public when workers presented management with a letter stating the intent to organize with 39 signatures affixed to it. That set in motion the process leading to today’s vote.
Agustin Ramirez, the ILWU’s lead organizer, said that Anchor has 10 days to dispute the outcome of this election. Following that, he expected the Anchor workers would form bargaining units and begin negotiating a contact “within weeks.”
Today’s vote, while unsurprising considering that the vast majority of Anchor workers signed the letter to management and filled out union cards, was a huge relief for the pro-union workers. “This was a very stressful couple of weeks,” admitted bottling worker Jon Ezell. He had observed the vote-count on behalf of the workers; when that 31st vote was reached — there are 61 employees on the factory side, and that clinched a union win — it was a little bit of Valhalla for him.
When asked what he’d do next, he said “Whatever my supervisor wants me to do. Gotta run!” and he clocked back in.
While working at Anchor is a source of pride for its employees, for many the rewards are of the intangible variety. When Fritz Maytag, the savior of Anchor Brewing, sold the place in mid-2010, starting wages were $17.25 an hour. Just correcting for inflation, that figure should be $20 an hour in 2019. But, quite the opposite, starting wages were cut to $15.50 after Maytag left the scene. They have since reached $16.50 — but, obviously, that’s not $20. The cost of living in San Francisco, meanwhile, has only traveled toward infinity and beyond.
Apart from the hourly wages, in 2017, workers were made to contribute significantly more to their healthcare plans. Moreover, paid 45-minute lunches were replaced with half-hour unpaid lunches — a stealth appropriation of thousands of dollars from already marginally compensated employees. The brewery was obtained by Sapporo in mid-2017. But, in 2018, Anchor ceased contributing to workers’ 401Ks. In 2019, the cap for accrued sick time was halved.
“Look, we’re the same as ever,” said Belden. “We make the beer, we package the beer, and we ship the beer. But, now, we have a place at the table.”
After the result was announced, Ramirez had a chance encounter with Anchor brewmaster Scott Ungermann on the factory’s front steps. It was terse but cordial. “We’re going to be working with you now,” Ramirez said. “Great,” replied the brewmaster.
Anchor workers, meanwhile, are hoping to become trendsetters.
“There have been a number of other craft breweries reaching out to us,” says fermentation worker Garrett Kelly. “We’re very excited to be an inspiration to the craft brewery industry on the whole.” He pauses. “Just as we have been for the last several decades.”