Rising Tide Brewing, a popular brewery located in Portland, faces a national labor complaint filed by a former employee who claims he was fired for trying to organize a union. The brewery is owned by Sen. Heather Sanborn of Portland.
The story was first uncovered by Good Beer Hunting, which published an account of the former employee’s story on Sept. 21. The employee asked not to be named out of fear it would hurt his chances of obtaining another job within the brewing industry, according to the publication.
The individual claims the Sanborns discouraged him from organizing the production staff at Rising Tide earlier this year and ultimately believes these efforts led to his firing in July. The individual sought to form a union to “improve safety protocols, facilitate better communication between owners and staff, and to conduct employee performance reviews on a regular basis in lieu of a sporadic or request-only basis.”
The attempt to organize prompted the Sanborns to send an email to their production staff listing several reasons they should vote against unionizing. The Sanborns cautioned workers about the cost of union dues and fees, the effects unionization would have on employee compensation and benefits, and said that forming a union could result in “benefits or rules that [they] don’t like,” according to the former employee.
The effort to unionize began in early 2019 and came to a head in January 2020 when production staff were set to vote on forming a Teamsters-affiliated union. The vote was called off when its proponents realized they did not have enough votes among their co-workers to organize.
Tensions mounted again in the summer when the former employee said he and his co-workers were upset about the lack of communication between management and staff about the implementation of COVID-19 health and safety measures. The employee said he was eventually fired in late July for being “clearly too unhappy to work there” which had a “negative effect on team morale and cohesion,” though he suspects the true motivation behind his termination was his efforts to organize the workplace.
“As a family owned business, we have worked tirelessly to take care of our staff during this pandemic–both during the closure and during the reopening process,” the Sanborns said in a statement. “In January, we left it up to our team to decide if they wanted to go forward with unionization. The team decided not to go forward and withdrew the request. We are confident that when the National Labor Relations Board examines the facts, they will find that we conducted ourselves entirely appropriately.”
The great irony here is that Sen. Sanborn is supposedly a champion of organized labor in the Maine Legislature. She has a perfect 100 legislative scorecard rating from the Maine AFL-CIO. She recently reported receiving a $400 contribution to her reelection campaign from a fund associated with the Maine Education Association (the state’s largest teachers union) for supporting public education.
To be fair, we only have one side of the story and it comes from a disgruntled former employee. But regardless of whether or not the employee was actually fired for trying to organize a union at Rising Tide, the employee says Sen. Sanborn urged her employees not to unionize and campaigned against their efforts.
That can’t sit well with Maine’s labor unions.