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The Brewers Who Make Iconic Anchor Steam Beer in S.F. Join Union

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Outside Anchor Brewery in San Francisco on March 11, 2019, where workers voted to unionize on Wednesday. (Stephanie Lister/KQED)

Brewery workers at the iconic Anchor Brewing Co. in San Francisco voted on Wednesday to unionize, saying one of the reasons they needed to organize was due to high living costs in one of the nation’s most expensive cities.

After the vote at the historic brewery in the city’s Potrero Hill neighborhood, workers hugged each other and cheered. They will now join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

Workers at Anchor’s Public Taps pub across the street will vote on Friday on whether to join the union.

“I'm ecstatic. Could not be more thrilled with the results,” said Garrett Kelly, who works in Anchor's fermentation department. “It's been a year and a half of hard work from a number of folks that have been really burning the midnight oil ... countless meetings, countless conversations, countless canvassing out in the community. And it's great to see that pay off today.”

The vote was 31-16, with another nine votes being challenged (Anchor said some votes were by supervisors who should not be considered part of the same bargaining unit; the union disagreed, according to ILWU's Agustin Ramirez).


An Anchor spokeswoman didn’t respond to requests for comment.

A group of Anchor workers announced their intention to organize in a letter to the management dated Feb. 7, saying they should be paid enough to live in San Francisco.

“We’re struggling to survive and raise our families. The work we do is exhausting — and we have to keep moving farther away and driving longer to survive. We deserve a chance to be #anchoredinsf, too,” they wrote.

Patrick Machel, a barback worker at Anchor Public Taps, said he would be voting to join the union. (Stephanie Lister/KQED)

The workers' complaint echoed many in the city’s food service industry, as well as public sector employees like teachers, firefighters and police officers, who have said over the years that San Francisco has become too expensive for them.

“We're a part of the community. We want to stay a part of the community,” said Jon Ezell, who works in the bottle shop. “Instead of leaving, I think starting a union is a way that we can make positive change and show San Francisco that people like us can stay here and thrive here.”

Anchor workers said they were emboldened to make the union bid after Sapporo Holdings Limited bought the company in 2017. “We want to have a voice within a corporation that makes billions of dollars a year,” said Patrick Machel, a barback at Public Taps.

Ezell said it was also about making Anchor a great place to work again. Previously, he said, Anchor had “a strong culture of looking after their employees, not just salary but also their benefits and the way that they treated them. Over time, that's eroded (for) various reasons. We want to fight to bring that back.”

A number of city supervisors, including Hillary Ronen, Shamann Walton and Gordon Mar, supported the effort to unionize.

Bloomberg Law reported that some Anchor workers filed an unfair labor practice charge against the company with the National Labor Relations Board on Feb. 26 for allegedly ordering employees to stop wearing pins in support of the union at work.

Anchor Taps barback Patrick Machel’s jacket is decorated with pro-union buttons. (Stephanie Lister/KQED)

Anchor Brewing’s flagship beer, Anchor Steam Beer, has been brewed in San Francisco since 1896, and the company says it can trace its roots to the Gold Rush.

KQED News' Brian Watt and Anna Sturla contributed to this report.

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