A movement to form a union at San Francisco’s historic Anchor Brewing Company is gaining steam among workers just as the city enters the final days of its annual beer week. A majority of more than 70 workers at the Potrero Hill brewery, which was acquired in 2017 by Japan’s Sapporo Holdings Ltd, has signed union cards and announced plans to work with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union to unionize their workplace. It’s an effort to improve pay and working conditions for laborers brewing and bottling beer at one of the country’s best-known breweries.
“We’re proud to be Anchor, and we want Anchor to provide good jobs again,” workers wrote in a public petition that was also delivered to Anchor Brewing management. But with a new, larger owner — and the difficulty of San Francisco’s high cost of living — some workers say they lack stability.
Garrett Kelly, a worker in the fermentation department, says things have gotten more difficult since he started at the company three-and-a-half years ago.
“I’ve noticed a trend of quality of life and benefits steadily declining since I started at Anchor,” says Kelly. “I thought that was part of making it more appealing to a potential buyer, and now, it’s an effort to reduce overhead.”
Sapporo’s ownership accelerated difficulties. What was once a 45 minute paid lunch, for example, is now a 30 minute unpaid lunch. The number of sick hours that workers can accrue has been reduced, and they’re forced to pay more for health benefits, if they’re lucky enough to receive them at all.
While a return to paid lunch “would be nice,” workers like Brian Witte, who started on Anchor’s bottling line five-and-a-half years ago, are pushing for regular and more significant raises. His first job on the lowest tier of production paid him $17.25 an hour — and now, on the highest tier production job, he makes just $1.81 cents more.
“And I’m one of the lucky ones who got a small raise,” says Witte.
Anchor workers began pursuing a union with the Democratic Socialists of America more than a year ago. “The DSA has been instrumental in making this unionization effort happen,” says Witte.
At noon yesterday, workers delivered a letter to management asking that they recognize the union, giving them 48 hours to respond.
If Anchor’s management refuses to recognize the bargaining unit, they’ll file with the national labor relations board and hold an election in the next four to six weeks.
For Kelly, working at Anchor is “one of a kind.”
“Going to work, you walk into our all copper brewhouse, and you feel like you’re walking into a cathedral.” Kelly wants to keep doing just that.
“We’re hopeful they’ll recognize this historic opportunity to be the first unionized craft brewery and continue to make beer history as Anchor,” says Kelly.
Anchor management did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.