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Workers at Elysian Brewing Have Unionized, and Want to ‘Set a Trend’

Employees at the brewery facility in Georgetown voted to join the Teamsters in August

A sign that read “Elysian Brewing.”
Elysian Brewing signage at a Mariners spring training game in 2021
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images
Harry Cheadle is the editor of Eater Seattle.

There aren’t many unionized workplaces in the world of craft brewing, but a group of Elysian Brewing employees wants to change that. On Tuesday, August 22, 33 workers at Elysian’s Georgetown production facility “overwhelmingly” voted to join Teamsters Local 117, according to a press release, and while they are seeking to improve working conditions and bargain for better wages, they are also hoping that the nearly 190,000 craft brewery employees in the U.S. follow their lead.

“They want to be an example for their generation of workers and their specific industry,” Local 177 Secretary-Treasurer John Scearcy told King 5 news. “They want to debunk the myth that these [craft brewery jobs] cannot be unionized and they cannot be career jobs.”

Elysian is one of many craft breweries in the U.S. that is owned by multinational beverage titan Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI), which is sometimes vilified by smaller breweries. One curious aspect of the beer industry is that many of the facilities that produce ABI’s best-selling beers, are unionized, but craft breweries are generally non-union. The large number of craft brewers, most of which don’t have many employees, hasn’t been fertile ground for union organizers.

But craft brewery employees across the country may be looking at unionization. They’re spurred on (like most workers who consider joining unions) by low pay and poor working conditions, but also by the realization that though craft breweries are often small, the craft industry as a whole is now a big chunk of the overall beer market. As ABI has bought up brewers, “craft” is no longer really synonymous with “small” or “anti-corporate.” (ABI has reportedly laid off workers at breweries this year in response to an overall decline in the craft beer market.)

Union drives at craft breweries are still relatively rare, though there have been efforts at ABI-owned breweries. Employees at Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Co., which is owned by ABI, tried to organize in 2020 but failed thanks to what they told the Chicago Tribune was an aggressive anti-union campaign from management, followed by the pandemic lockdowns. Earlier this year, workers at Widmer Brothers in Portland, Oregon, voted to unionize; according to Northwest Labor Press the 2020 acquisition of the brewery by ABI was a driving factor. “When you’re playing with a corporation at that level, representation can be a good idea,” one worker told the Press.

At Elyisan, employees were reportedly unhappy with their career advancement prospects under a system that tied raises to promotions. “In order to get a raise, you have to get promoted,” Alexa Grobelny, a former Elysian employee who was active in the union campaign, told the Seattle Times. “And there’s not a lot of avenues for promotion. So we wanted to come together and try to change that and make sure people can have the career path and the financial means to sustain that career.”

The union vote covered only workers at the Georgetown production facility, and doesn’t apply to taproom employees like waitstaff or kitchen workers, according to the Times. Eater Seattle has reached out to reps for Elysian and will update this article if Eater receives comment.