Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Bankrupcy, labor unions, and remaining union free

Fair State Brewing, one the nation's first unionized craft breweries, just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Meanwhile and elsewhere, Aslin Beer Co. just said that it will voluntarily recognize the union petition filed by a group of its taproom employees to join the SEIU.

Evan Sallee, Fair State's founder and CEO, tells Eater than its union has nothing whatsoever to do with the bankruptcy filing.

"The reality is that the issues we're facing are structural, but not related to the structure of our staffing, or our benefits, or anything that unionization would have gotten in the way of." 

By "structural," he's referring to the economy in which craft breweries are currently operating — inflationary prices, high interest rates, a tight labor market, and changing consumer tastes that have deprioritized craft beer as a beverage choice.

Correlation isn't necessarily causation, but … if I'm a craft brewery employee considering a labor union or a craft brewery owner considering voluntarily recognizing that union, I'm taking a long, hard look at whether a labor union makes any sense at all in the current "structure" facing the craft beer industry.

As to Aslin, why are its taproom employees organizing? Here's what they wrote to management in their representation demand (as reported by DC Beer)

"For months, we have been understaffed, despite many veteran employees not being scheduled to work. Our time has been disrespected and our concerns have gone unheard…. Communication is absent…. We are not being set up to succeed. Unionizing would provide a seat at the table for staff, ensuring that our voices are being heard in decisions that affect our livelihoods."

Pay careful attention to the key buzzwords these employees used.

"Absent communication"
"No seat at the table"
"Voices not being heard"

What’s not mentioned? Wages, pay, or benefits.

Employees unionize because they feel unheard and disrespected. If you want to create a workplace in which a union's organizing message will fall on deaf ears with your employees, create an atmosphere in which they feel heard and, most importantly, respected. You might not always agree with your employees, and they might not always get what they want. But if they believe and feel that you are listening to them and take them seriously, they will have no reason to unionize.

Here are a few examples to best achieve this environment and culture in your workplace:

🗣️ Create a culture of open communication. This fosters trust and loyalty among your staff and creates a sense of belonging.

👂 Listen to your employees and show respect to their opinions and asks. It can be as simple as a suggestion box or as formal as regular staff meetings. This creates a positive and productive work environment for everyone.

👀 Recognize employee achievements and reward their efforts. This shows appreciation for their work and boosts their morale and motivation.

⛔ Never retaliate against an employee who brings an issue to your attention. The quickest way to chill any future openness is to retaliate.

These four basic steps will help create the type of positive work environment in which employees should never have to seek the help of a labor union to gain their seat at your table.