"Welcome to our union!" says the ILWU's Chris Christensen as he embraces Anchor worker Brace Belden (in white jumpsuit). Photo taken March 13, 2019. Photo by Joe Eskenazi

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.”

Members of the media were escorted from the room where votes were being counted by Anchor management. But, regardless, workers opted to unionize by a 31 to 16 tally. Photo by Joe Eskenazi.

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.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. “Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior...

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5 Comments

  1. Well Done Anchor Steam workers! I know we weren’t supposed to boycott Anchor Stream during your struggle, but my friends and i just couldn’t buy the product from such a management team. We will happily make up for that lapse now!!
    #unionstrong

  2. Welcome to the working world of Solidarity, and Collective Bargaining. I salute those of you who stepped forward and had the courage to organize all of your co-workers. I hope one day those 16 who voted no come forward and shake your hands and admit that they were wrong, and thank each and everyone of you for what you did for them and their families. Not only employees, but the general public must realize that corporations, and other employers do not just give away good wages, and benefits out of some false perceived notion of benevolence. These are obtained for the employees by negotiating in good faith. By Unions. It kills me when I hear politicians speak about “equal pay for equal work”, and the crowd goes wild. Right then and there I know that they are speaking to a non-union crowd. Equal pay for equal work is the standard for a union shop. Man or woman, if you”re doing the same job: same pay, no big deal. What Sapporo did to all of you is not unusual. By you bringing it out to the public is. We must all sound the alarm with this global market and influx of foreign ownership and the abuse of it’s employees. Let’s show that Unions are not a dirty name, but the protector for the working force. I often tell people to look at CEOs of large corporations. They all have contracts before they start. Those contracts protect the CEO for pay, benefits, and termination. Why should we not enjoy those protections as well? Again, I wish you all well in your new working environment…

    1. “Equal pay for equal work is the standard for a union shop”

      Unless there is a quota that pays people for output regardless of time(I.e. every 100 widgets completed gets you $20 in pay), equal work is a lie. There is NEVER equal work. People work at different speeds, with different attitudes, and with different efficiencies. No two people are the same and they won’t ever work the same. Equal pay for different levels of work would be a better saying. In the vast majority of workplaces, there are people pulling a bigger load and others that are slacking off. For some reason, it’s not cool to call out those slacking and get them fired. Often the person slacking off is very quick witted and will make fun of “the teachers pet”. They are often also good at pointing blame and playing the victim. Fuck these people. We all know who they are.

      For employees that don’t trust their own individual ability to get a better paying job elsewhere, unions can be a great way to bargain.

      That being said, I hope this union thing goes well for the Anchor employees. I hope Mission Local follows up in 1, 3 and 5 years to show the increase in pay/benefits and/or profit for the company. This could be a great case study in how unions help drive up wages for employees.

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