By a gaudy 49-3 vote, workers at Anchor Brewing have ratified their first union contract, a happy occasion they hope results in much drinking of Anchor beer, both on and off the De Haro and Mariposa facility. 

The workforce here in March voted to organize with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. In May they began hammering out a contract with management, and on Dec. 10, they shook hands and put it up for a vote before the workers. 

In the contract negotiating game, this is a quick turnaround. Management “could’ve done a lot to stall this process and we’re thankful they didn’t want to do this,” noted fermentation worker Garrett Kelly, who was on the bargaining team. Said brewer and fellow bargainer Jon Ezell, “This was the difference between working with a company that wanted to get us a contract versus a company that does not. Anchor showed they wanted a contract.”   

The three-year contract offers enhanced wages and benefits, and returns to workers some of the plums that had been taken away after Fritz Maytag sold the company in 2010. (Anchor was subsequently sold to Sapporo in 2017).

“We look forward to a strong future together with the newly formed union,” said Scott Ungermann, Anchor’s brewmaster, in a statement jointly released with the ILWU. “Anchor has a storied history and enduring commitment to making great beers and valuing the people who brew them.”

See also: Sapporo slated to be brewed at Anchor’s flagging Potrero facility. But will the workers get a union — and a raise?

Anchor workers display their new contract. From left, Blake Dahlstrom, Roland Payongayang, Jon Ezell, Fabian James, and Ryan Enright. Photo by Abraham Rodriguez.

Wages, during the course of the 2020-2023 contract, will go up by an average of 8 percent. Hitting beer production benchmarks will trigger heftier payments to employees’ 401(k) plans. Benefits and paid time off have been expanded for part-time workers. Anchor will pick up 85 percent of the healthcare premium for its employees and 50 percent for their dependents. Just-cause provisions are now in place regarding worker terminations. And the longtime former privilege of paid, half-hour lunches will be restored. 

Over the course of a year, those compensated lunches means 125 more paid hours of work for a full-time employee. 

For Ezell, who commutes from the East Bay and has three young children, this means he can clock out half an hour earlier each day: “For me, it’s like three-and-a-half more weeks I can spend with my family.” 

The contract offers solace for workers like Ezell and others who have been forced to parse career aspirations and cold, hard Bay Area economic reality. Anchor Brewing is a major-league destination for craft beer enthusiasts, but it doesn’t offer major league-caliber pay. A number of workers we spoke with earlier this year clear less than $40,000. Even brewers may not top $50,000. 

San Francisco’s costs of living — well, those you know. 

Against this backdrop, real wages at the brewery actually dropped in the years after Maytag’s exit in 2010. Starting pay was reduced from $17.25 to $15.50 following the 2010, before going back up to $16.50 — because, Mission Local is told, it was difficult to make hires at anything less.   

Under the new contract, a worker presently earning starting pay of $16.50 an hour will be kicked up to $18.50 on Jan. 1, and would be earning just over $21 per hour by 2023. At Public Taps, located across the street from the brewery, most bartenders and bar backs will see their wages grow from $15.60 to $18.25 an hour in the new year.  

ILWU organizer Agustin Ramirez says he hopes that Anchor becomes a trend-setter in the unionization of craft breweries — just as, in prior generations, it was a trend-setter in the establishment of the craft brewing movement.

With today’s ratification, Anchor Brewing workers say they’re hoping their status as the nation’s first craft brewery to unionize from within can become a selling point. 

Kelly says workers are in discussions with the brewery’s marketing team regarding a “union made” designation on the beer’s labeling. 

“When you go to the store, you have choices,” says Ezell. “That union benefits and rights are being given to Anchor’s workers might influence people’s decision.” 

Anchor workers express relief and happiness following today’s vote tally. Of 52 voting workers, 49 chose to ratify the union contract. Photo by Abraham Rodriguez.