Workers and Unions

Union House and Union Bar Cards used in earlier years. Courtesy of UniteHere.

Workers at the Bessemer, Alabama, Amazon warehouse are trying to form a union. The story has gone national with both President Biden and Senator Marco Rubio weighing in on the side of the workers. Amazon has engaged in hard-ball anti-labor tactics in the past and we can assume they will pursue that course in Alabama.

Union membership and ensuing political power has been declining for years. Labor law most often favors the employer rather than the employee. The Bessemer workers hope that if they succeed this will prompt other Amazon workers in different parts of the country to attempt unionization as well.

Here is an excerpt from Brewing Battles about the brewery workers union in the late 19th century.

In the 1870s, the number of breweries in America reached a record 4,131 and by 1890, output had risen to over 227 million barrels from 3 million at the end of the war. Although there were breweries throughout the country, the business concentrated in urban areas. Lack of appropriate refrigeration made far flung distribution of beer impossible. Demographics also played an important role. Urban areas, with their large ethnic populations, particularly German, were the perfect marketplace for brewers. As a result, certain cities, such as New York, Milwaukee, and Chicago became brewing centers. In the South beer drinking and brewing did not really take hold perhaps because of the small immigrant population there as well as persistent illegal distilling or moonshine.[1]

Urban areas had the most breweries and also the most workers. Cities became the focal point of emerging labor and union activity. In 1886 the newly founded United Brewery Workers (UBW) engaged in a boycott of Peter Doegler Brewery, Brooklyn, New York. Boycotts, as well as union labels, were major weapons in ongoing union struggles with the brewers. A mass product such as beer befitted the use of both strategies. Working class-drinkers contributed greatly to the sales of malt liquors, which they purchased from local brewers. The boycott had originated in Ireland around issues of land and rent. Irish-American radicals adopted the concept of social ostracism which was the foundation of the tactic. The boycott was one element in the social adaptation of immigrants to their new world. Boycotts, parades, and mass demonstrations “provided opportunities for immigrant workers to participate in familiar patterns of protest and recreation.”[2] Pervasive in labor struggles in the 1880s, boycotts and the practice of social ostracism often went hand-in-hand. Both worked best in neighborhoods and small communities and helped foster consumer consciousness. The UBW strove to increase class consciousness.

The new union successfully negotiated a contract with the Brewers Association in the spring of 1886 which gave workers a weekly wage of $15 to $18 for a six day week, 10 hours a day. The young organization had certainly gained an “extraordinary victory.”[3]

1886 was a good year for brewery workers nationwide as unions developed in Baltimore, Chicago, New Jersey, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Detroit, San Francisco, and Buffalo. Many of the unions operated under the auspices of the Knights of Labor. In California Alfred Fuhrman, a sailor and the Federated Trades Council organized the Brewers’ and Maltsters’ Union of the Pacific Coast. Through a boycott of one San Francisco brewery, Fuhrman organized workers in five companies and achieved support throughout the Coast area.[4]

Brewery workers used tactics like the boycott and the union label to encourage workers from other industries to support their struggles with management. The UBW sought to build a strong union and to fully legitimate organized labor in the brewing industry. Towards that end, in conjunction with boycotts, the brewery workers and other unions promoted the concept of “union labor” which implied cooperation with pro-union management against anti-union owners. The average brewery laborer had a hard and grueling life before the advent of the union movement yet the UBW won changes in working conditions, hours, and wages more easily than they did advancements in recognition and jurisdiction. The early successes of the union in gaining ten hour days and increased wages in various cities served as the prelude to ten years of fighting with the brewers and the Brewers Association for union legitimacy.

Many unions formed in the 1880s evolved from strong craft heritages and traditions. Brewing, in many ways, was a traditional occupation; brewers certainly sought to present their business to the public in this light. Yet, at least since the Civil War, brewing required primarily unskilled and thus replaceable labor. The second convention of the UBW recognized this fact of life. Although the union strongly supported the hiring of experienced brewery workers over inexperienced ones, the convention proposed an inclusive union for all workers and trades in the industry; an industrial union. Organizing all the workers in an industry made it more difficult for management to break strikes. Thus the UBW consisted of beer-drivers, maltsters, firemen, and engineers, and became the first industrial union in the country to survive. This commitment to industrial unionism would lead to chronic jurisdictional difficulties with other unions and the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The union sought to organize all workers in the industry, yet it did not consider distillery workers as part of its jurisdiction. On this point the union agreed with the brewers’ view of division within the liquor industry.[5]

[1] For information about moonshine and illicit distilling in the South after the Civil War, see Wilbur R. Miller, Revenuers & Moonshiners: Enforcing Federal Liquor Law in the Mountain South, 1865-1900 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991).

[2] Michael A. Gordon, “The Labor Boycott in New York City, 1880-1886,” Labor History, 16 (Spring 1975), 194.

[3] Schlüter, The Brewing Industry 117; Gordon, “The Labor Boycott in New York City,” 213.

[4] Schlüter, The Brewing Industry, p 117-127; Ira Cross, A History Of the Labor Movement in California, 191-192.

[5] James Morris, Conflict Within the AFL, A Study of Craft Versus Industrial Unionism, 1901–1938, (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1958), 20. Another name for the UBW was National Union of United Brewery Workmen of the United States.

 

Jewish Brewing, Revisited

At the end of 2020 , I was contacted by two different people who had  read my post from 2009 about Jewish Beer and Brewing. One was Arieh Lebowitz who is the executive director of the Jewish Labor Committee and the other was Gerry Regan, whose father worked for Rheingold Beer. He has a blog and has written about Rheingold.

Rheingold Beer is apparently brewed in Wilton, Connecticut. There is a Facebook page devoted to the beer and here is a rating from the Beer Advocate.

Some of the links from the 2009 post don’t work and I can’t figure out how to fix them so here is a different version of the Rheingold jingle. Here is picture of a Rheingold can:

I know this is a short post but I originally thought I would be away from Thursday to Sunday and was planning not to post at all. Hopefully I will be better prepared next week and produce a completely scintillating post.

 

Shelton Brothers

Earlier this month, the big news in craft brewing was the closing of beer importers, Shelton Bros. The company existed for twenty-four years and were early importers of craft beers. They introduced America to different beer styles, such as sour beer. The company’s bank pushed them into liquidation; a victim of COVID-19 and the recession. You can read more about the closing of Shelton Bros. here.

I found this news interesting  because of a personal  connection to the firm. One of the Shelton brothers is Will. He is the dad of Zach and Max who are among my son Alan’s best friends. I have  known Will for over twenty years.

For a while he owned a brewery in Western Massachusetts, High and Mighty, which made great beer. I gave a book talk about Brewing Battles at the Jones Library and we served Will’s beer.  The brewery only lasted a few years and then Will moved to California. There, for a while,  he worked with Pete Slosberg from Pete’s Wicked Ale.  He then started a new brewery, Concrete Jungle. Will is now back in Massachusetts.

The demise of Shelton Bros. reflect changes in the brewing industry. The country has over 7,000 breweries. Many of them are very local and supply farm to table restaurants. American brewers now make many of the unusual and exotic styles that Shelton Bros imported, making them less competitive. You can read more about Shelton Bros, in an article from 2017 by Andy Crouch.

 

Great American Beer Festival

Friday and Saturday evenings I attended, virtually, the Great American Beer Festival. The first event on Friday was the Awards Ceremony. This was the session that had the greatest attendance; over three hundred people watched. It was open to the public and available on YouTube. All of the other events required you to spend $20 and get a GABF Passport.

There seemed to be an endless number of awards with many specific categories. Obviously the fewer contestants in a category gave an individual brewer a greater chance of winning. The Juicy or Hazy India Pale Ale category had the most entries; 377. Spellbinder, Wren House Brewing Co., Phoenix, Arizona won the gold medal.  You can read  more about this style of beer here. I don’t think I have ever had it.

The Brewers Association sponsors the GABF. Justin Crossley, from the Brewing Network, was the host for all the session except the Awards Ceremony. Most of the events had around 150 viewers. That doesn’t seem like a large audience. I don’t know how many people usually attend the GABF but I assume it is more than 150.

Attending the GABF virtually meant the presenters were on Zoom or a similar platform. That meant there were various technological problems which led to poor production quality in some of the sessions. There were several interesting panels which I will discuss in separate posts in the coming weeks.

September Beer Roundup

Here are some articles about beer that I thought were interesting.

“September 9 Day of Action Planned to Urge Passage of Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act.” The Brewers Association  and other allied trade associations such as American Mead Makers Association are spending today lobbying  for passage of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, S.362/H.R. 1175. The bill would make the temporary tax benefits that brewers, distillers, and other actors in the liquor industry received from Trump’s tax cuts of 2017 permanent Those tax cuts flowed mainly to very rich people and corporations while poor and working-class people received little benefit. Brewers did not complain since they were also beneficiaries of the law.

The liquor industry like other businesses has suffered during the pandemic. If the tax cuts go away, it could worsen their economic situation. This article reports that two breweries with beer gardens and beer-to-go in Everett Massachusetts have closed because a customer went bar hopping while awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.

The Great American Beer Festival has been held for thirty-nine years. This year it will be virtual. I have always wanted to go but I haven’t made it out to Denver yet. The upside of everything being virtual during the pandemic is that you can attend events that in real life you might not have been able to go to. It runs October 16–17. On the 17th Marcus Baskerville, Weathered Souls Brewing Co. , will be speaking about the Black is Beautiful brewing project that I wrote about here.

Magic Hat

Last month, the owners of Vermont’s Magic Hat Brewery, FIFCO USA, a subsidiary of Florida Ice and Farm Co. announced it was moving all Magic Hat production to the Genesee Brewing headquarters in Rochester, N.Y. This move, during COVID-19, meant that forty-three people lost their jobs. Magic Hat had employed forty-six people in Vermont.

Bob Johnson, the original brewer, and Alan Newman co-founded the brewery in 1994. Newman sold the company to North American Breweries in 2010. He feels that was the end of Magic Hat as an innovating craft brewery. KPS Capital Partners formed North American Breweries to manage its beer investments.

Companies like KPS buy breweries as an investment; they do not really have any interest in running the company or building the business. They cut expenses, which usually involves cutting jobs, extract value and then sell the company. That is what happened to Magic Hat. In 2012, Magic Hat and the brewing investments were sold to FIFCO for $388 million dollars.

In 1994, at the time of Magic Hat’s founding, there were only a few other breweries and a few brew pubs in the state. Greg Noonan founded Vermont’s first brewpub in 1988. Today, Vermont has 61 breweries. In 2018, Vermont breweries produced 350,000 barrels (61 gallons per barrel) which had a value of $362 million dollars.

Magic Hat’s story of being a pioneer in craft brewing, seeking to expand and then being sold for investment value could be the tale of many of the country’s over 7,000 brewers as they faced the economic consequences of COVID-19.

For more information about Magic Hat’s move, click here

 

 

Black is Beautiful

Since George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing demonstrations, industry has responded with statements of support, many stating Black Lives Matter. The craft beer industry, at least its trade organization, the Brewers Association, has been an exception.

The BA’s website has no formal statement about police brutality and systemic racism. It does have a link to a project, Black is Beautiful, that Weathered Souls Brewery initiated. The black-owned brewery created a stout base and is encouraging other brewers to produce a beer from it.

Over 800 breweries are participating, from all fifty states and fifteen countries. According to the BA, there are over eight thousand brewers in the United States. Weathered Souls Brewery is asking the brewers who participate in the Black is Beautiful initiative to do three things:

  • Donate 100% of the beer’s proceeds to local foundations that support police brutality reform and legal defenses for those who have been wronged
  • Choose their own entity to donate to local organizations that support equality and inclusion
  • Commit to the long-term work of equality

The brewery, as part of its fundraising efforts, is also sponsoring a virtual 5k.

The craft beer industry is overwhelmingly white and male. Lees than one percent of brewers are black. Craft brewers market their product as authentic, local, and having roots in the community. The lack of diversity in the industry belies that claim.

Black is Beautiful is a project worth supporting. I plan to drink one of the beers produced if I can find it.  I can’t run a 5k, but I can walk three miles and Weathered Souls gets the $35 either way.

For more information on this topic, you can read this and this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belgian Beer

A few years ago, we visited both Bruges and Brussels in Belgium. When I started seeing some articles about Belgian brewing and Covid-19 I was interested.

During this pandemic, things have changed quickly. A good example is the Belgian brewers. When Corona first hit and businesses closed, Belgian craft brewers were doing well. Later, the situation changed.

In April, about month into the pandemic, the New York Post had an article about Belgian brewers developing a delivery process because all the bars were closed. It highlighted one craft brewer whose business was expanding due to delivery sales. At this point the picture might have looked rosy.

By May, the situation ad changed. The Belgian Brewers Federation announced that production of beer had dropped 50 percent in April.  The drop in production affected small brewers the most and one third of brewers had ceased producing any beer.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Eoghan Walsh who has a blog, Brussels Beer City, stated a podcast, Cabin Fever. On the podcast where he and other people involved in aspects of the craft brewing industry talk about what they are doing during the pandemic and what they are drinking. I have enjoyed listening to it because it is an easy going way to learn about how the pandemic is affecting the beer industry.

Brussels, 2017

The Liquor Industry and COVID-19

At the beginning of the year, thing were looking pretty good for all segments of the brewing industry. Local and state municipalities see craft beer as an important economic driver, That’s why a tax cut was part of Trump’s disastrous tax bill and why this year the industry got an one year extension for that tax reduction. Then COVID-19 happened.

Most states have closed bars and prevented restaurants from providing in house service. They are allowed to provide grab and go service. How has this affected brewers and distillers?

Here is a roundup of articles about how the liquor industry is faring during the pandemic. Like everything else in our society, regulations surrounding certain practices are being  loosened or abandoned. When this is over, many thing will be different.

Deschutes Brewery has laid off  over 300 workers and is not presently offering any to-go services.

The governor of Rhode Island  issued an executive order  that allows limited sale of beer and wine when people are getting takeout from restaurants.

Last Saturday, some Milwaukee brewers had a pop-up  brewery drive-through in a parking lot.

Before the virus, only  twelve states allowed  delivery of all  kinds of liquor while thirty-one states allowed  delivery of beer and wine. This article is arguing for a permanent change in these regulations.

Reminiscent of Prohibition, distilleries are producing hand sanitizer. The relief bill passed last week allows distilleries to do this without having to pay the excise tax.

I hope everyone is safe and stays well.

Social Drinking

Can you be a social drinker? I recently read an article in The New York Times that would suggest the answer was no. The article itself was interesting and the comments were even more interesting. The vociferousness of the comments that defended drinking indicates that drinking in America has been normalized. The recent Atlantic article that asked why there is no anti-alcohol movement explored some of the reasons for that normalization. When I was at my writing retreat this fall, one of the other attendees was a woman who has recently stopped drinking and has a blog about it.

Prior to Prohibition, the temperance movement saw drinking as being both a moral and societal issue. They sought a civil response to the problems of drinking. Although prohibitionists counseled individuals to have the moral and individual strength to stop drinking, the movement sought to remove drinking from society through political and legislative means.

Since Prohibition, the liquor industry has been very successful in framing drinking and the serious issues it can cause as an individual disease. There have been some moments where the public health analysis of alcohol and the society-wide problems it causes, have been in ascendance. Both the movement to decrease drunk driving and the 1991 tax increase on alcohol had public health components.

Today the liquor industry is completely in control and health information detailing problems with liquor go nowhere. On television you see public service announcements on tobacco and vaping. There are none about drinking.

Here is a picture of a cirrhotic liver as one example of the damage excessive drinking can do to your body and health.

Cirrohotic Liver