UPDATE (Nov. 28 at 2:30 p.m.): The Boston Globe reports that since the outcry, Trillium Brewing has restored wages to previous levels. Here is the statement from the brewery:
We’ve seen the recent social media commentary from our community. We have read and discussed every post, comment, and critique.
We opened Trillium in 2013 with three people and a dream of brewing exceptional beer to share with our local community. We did not know how it would turn out, but we were passionate and persevered. The idea that we might eventually build a company with a team of hundreds whom we would consider family at that point was still a dream. Now we are a passionate crew of 286 and could not have grown so fast in just five years without our exceptional team and loyal customers, and we could not be more grateful.
We would like to address recent comments regarding our employment practices. The conversation regarding tip-based wages is a long-running restaurant consideration, but is now also relevant in the young craft brewery retail industry. Five years ago we adopted this model and have watched the industry around us grow largely in the same way. Whether or not this model is the ideal model for our industry as a whole has been a topic of debate recently, and we want to be part of the discussion as the industry matures and moves forward with more amazing local craft breweries opening up every year. We have already spoken with the Massachusetts Brewers’ Guild to begin a discussion locally in our state, to start the conversation, and help each other identify best practices for the benefit of our employees and our customers.
We pay our team in accordance with typical standards in the craft beer industry and with state and federal wage and hour laws. Feedback on our model from our staff has been overwhelmingly positive. We listen to feedback and try to respond quickly to improve the experience for our team and our customers. We opened Fort Point just one month ago and, in that process, some of our tenured retail staff were given a lower rate than they had previously been making. We have since met with those team members and reinstated their original rate. We have also reached out to our entire staff to discuss the situation, address any questions regarding compensation and benefits, and ask for their feedback, as it is critical to our success.
We apologize that this has caused any of our employees, customers or friends to doubt, in any way, the integrity of Trillium or their ongoing support of us. We are fortunate that we’ve assembled such a talented team and remain committed to brewing exceptional beer that we can share with our family, friends, and customers.
ORIGINAL: Boston-based Trillium Brewing is taking some heat locally after word started to spread about its labor practices. Former and current employees say many workers were forced to reapply for their jobs — the same positions they had been working — with the main purpose being reducing their hourly wage from $8 an hour to $5 an hour. The controversy spilled out into a Beer Advocate forum and then found its way into the pages of the Boston Globe:
“We made a mistake,” said JC Tetreault, who founded Trillium in 2013 and owns it with his wife, Esther. “To have people not feel valued, that makes me feel terrible. . . . I’m pretty heartbroken as to how we got to this point.”
He said the pay cuts affected a handful of longtime retail employees who had been hired at Trillium’s previous standard hourly rate for tipped employees of $8.
The key there is “tipped employees.” Instituting a wage cut while the company is growing is certainly bad optics — and optics matter in craft beer because of the connection customers often feel when supporting local businesses — but it is still above the $3.75 state minimum wage for tipped employees.
The most controversial aspect here from a consumer perspective is categorizing the retail employees in the same wage category as the servers and bartenders. How often do people really tip the person who turns around and hands them a six pack they wanted to buy? The answer is reflected in the pockets of those employees:
In interviews with the Globe, the current and former employees said the pay cuts coincided with a move to the new location in the Fort Point neighborhood. … But even as the crowds packed the site, the current employee said, tips at the new location dropped, as customers were reluctant to tip at the retail counter after also tipping a bartender or server.
That the workers slinging cans from behind the retail counter are paid as tipped employees not subject to the typical state minimum wage came as a surprise to many customers, the employee said. Before he was an employee, he was a customer.
“I didn’t tip before that because I didn’t know. Most of the guests don’t know,” he said. “Trillium does not in any way advertise that.”
Insight from the archives
We often romanticize owning and operating a brewery, but they are businesses like any other faced with difficult decisions. If you have questions about how to properly pay your staff, here is a series from our archives that may help:
Craft Brewing Business says
FYI: This story has been updated after Trillium restored the previous wages: https://www.craftbrewingbusiness.com/business-marketing/trillium-brewing-reduces-wages-for-tipped-employees-stirring-local-backlash/