San Francisco Wants Union Beer

On February 7th, workers at Anchor Brewing Co. announced their intent to unionize with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), citing low pay, cuts in hours, and rising costs of benefits. The announcement was the culmination of a year-long underground organizing drive supported by the ILWU and The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) San Francisco chapter.

Since then, local and national media as diverse as Eater SF, Mission Local, and Salon have reported on the campaign as one of the first efforts to organize a craft brewery and the first union organized in collaboration with a DSA chapter. But, more importantly, the broader San Francisco community has come out in strong support of the union.

I spoke with Jesse Battalino, a Mission resident, at the union’s February 7th kick-off rally in the Mission district. Jesse claimed no union or DSA affiliation, but was motivated to attend the rally to show solidarity with Anchor workers. “I’ve lived in San Francisco for ten years and the entire time has been an uphill battle to afford to live here,” he said. “Anchor has been a constant presence- it’s hard to think of San Francisco and not think of Anchor, and it makes me sad that people are working there full time and not making a livable wage… The fact that there’s a lot of support behind this union sends a message to Anchor that they need to step their game up.”

Anchor Union signs are springing up all over town

Since that first event, union supporters like Battalino have canvassed homes and business in the Mission, Potrero Hill, and Haight districts and put up hundreds of signs and stickers. More events are scheduled for other neighborhoods in the coming weeks. Requests for signs have also come in from business and individuals in Oakland, Sacramento, and Los Angeles, and from as far away as Portland, Maine and Vancouver, Canada.

About fifty supporters gathered at Anchor Public Taps last Friday to celebrate the workers and throw back a few steam beers. “This is the easiest form of activism you will ever do,” said Evan McLaughlin, a local labor organizer and DSA member. Union allies handed out stickers and at one point erupted in a pro-union chant, which was met by curiosity and some applause from other patrons. Anchor’s COO, Greg Newbrough, was spotted at the event but made no public comment.

Outside The Mad Dog in the Fog, Hayes Valley

“What excites me about Anchor Union is that I actually think it’s going to work!”, said Patrick McDonald, a bartender who lives in the Western Addition. “The political climate is right and the union’s support base is really strong. San Francisco’s got Anchor workers’ backs. This is going to be a labor movement for the history books and will undoubtedly inspire working people for decades to come and I find it exhilarating that it’s happening right before my own eyes in my own city. I would love to see Anchor Union become the spark to the next big labor movement.”

Anchor Union’s ground game is echoed by their online presence. A petition in support of the union has gathered about two thousand signatures, twice beating previously set goals. The union’s social media campaign, waged on #AnchoredInSF and #AnchorUnionSF, features union supporters across the nation enjoying the iconic San Francisco beer, urging Anchor to recognize the union and negotiate in good faith. McLaughlin says that supporters’ positivity towards Anchor is important: “The workers are proud to be Anchor, and they’re proud of Anchor’s legacy. They want Anchor to be successful and they want the company to know that the workers are the reason for their success.”

Anchor has so far not voluntarily recognized the union. Organizers have filed with the National Labor Relations Board for an election, which is scheduled for March 6th. There are reports that Anchor management has scheduled small group meetings with employees, but little else about their intentions is known. Other companies have previously used such meetings to propagate anti-union misinformation.

San Francisco politicians and activists haven’t shied away from the campaign either. Supervisor Shamann Walton, who represents District 10 where Anchor’s brewery is located, has urged Anchor to recognize the union in a letter to COO Greg Newbrough. His colleague, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, described the campaign as “a righteous fight.” District 5 supervisor candidate Dean Preston also came out in strong support: “The Anchor Union will make workers across the city rethink what’s possible at their workplaces. I support them 100% and I’d like to see Anchor recognize the union ASAP.” Tony Kelly, a Potrero hill resident and longtime community activist, agreed: “Anchor has been out in front of their industry in many ways- they were one of the first craft breweries. They should continue to lead by being the first to do right by their workers.”

Battalino had one piece of advice for management at other San Francisco companies: “They should be talking about this now, before their workers walk out on them.”