If I wanted water, I would have asked for water.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Rogue Workplace Followup

Last week, I mentioned some news about some potential labor strife at Rogue Ales. The original article came from a labor group, and I solicited feedback that would either support or refute it. I especially would have liked to hear from Rogue. I got three emails, and there were a few comments left by anonymous writers on the blogs. Unfortunately, no one from Rogue got back to me. The folks who emailed all did so under their actual names, but asked that I keep their names out of the discussion. Fair enough.

A few things stood out. One is that Rogue's long-time master brewer, John Maier, remains a much-respected figure. He was praised both for his skill as a brewer and for being a great mentor (not surprising when you consider how many brewers have come up through Rogue, having worked with John). In a similar vein, folks were reluctant to paint Rogue with a single brush; they mention having good experiences while working there and felt that the situation is far from clear-cut.

On the other hand, they all also agreed that the work environment is brutal. One mentioned "ridiculous expectations" and a gulf between ownership/management and the production staff. Another witnessed a scene in which a manager was "screaming" at his staff with menace and vitriol. In the story I referenced, there was an anecdote about a brewer getting fired in front of the staff; one of my emailers confirmed this.

An anonymous commenter at A Good Beer Blog (who offered his own unconfirmed tales of mistreatment) made another great point. He looked through the jobs listing at ProBrewer.com and noticed that "they are hiring brewers, a head brewer, director of production, and national sales manager." That may be coincidence, but is more likely an example of staff turnover.

So, again, I don't see anything here to suggest that Rogue's behavior in any way crosses lines. The picture that emerges is of a hard, aggressive environment that leads to lots of job churn. There are ugly incidents, but also opportunities to learn and grow. It would be nice if Rogue commented on the situation, but I can see why they wouldn't. (This has the classic "when did you stop beating your wife" set-up of doomed issues.)

I'm interested in the story because I'm interested in businesses that treat their employees well. There's a huge amount of good beer in the world, and I'm the kind of customer that rewards good labor relations and eco-brewing. As this issue evolved, there were a group of commenters who wanted to defend businesses to treat their workers badly, believing that the logic of markets would compel Rogue to improve its practices if there was a problem. Although I think that's a specious argument (markets work for businesses, not employees), I do agree with one element of the argument: the marketplace can decide to reward or punish a brewery for good or bad behavior. This story is useful in giving consumers the information they need to make their call. The more you know, the more you can make an informed purchase.


Update: Users had posted a couple comment threads discussing this issue at BeerAdvocate (one, two). It appears BA has pulled them down. Interesting.

9 comments:

Nicole said...

I am disappointed in the removal of the BA posts. I assume that the Brothers were concerned about marketing partnerships. I wonder about the turnover of all positions at Rogue. In the past three years, I believe that I have seen at least three, “job fairs.” You don’t see many job fairs in this economy.

Jack R. said...

re: "I'm the kind of customer that rewards good labor relations and eco-brewing".

Me too. And 'in the best American tradition, I will vote with my feet' until I learn of a reversal of mien.

Daniel Warner said...

No, it's general policy at BA to pull down anything related to politics or economics, even within the beer world. Yes, it's a problem. They also ban people who question their policies off site.

Combined with the overwhelmingly shitty reviews and the attitude of pompous snobbery the site cultivates, you should probably avoid it like a leper colony.

Soggy Coaster said...

I'm amazed by the long and odd hours and poor pay that brewery workers, especially bottlers and lowly assistant brewers, put up with to pursue their craft. I hope Rogue and other brewers recognize that we pay first and foremost for high-quality beer, and that comes from the people who make and handle it.

As far as BA, isn't it interesting that the Alstrom brothers chose to call it "BeerAdvocate?" That would seem to imply accentuating the positive and downplaying the negative in the brewing industry. It's a good website to get an idea of how drinkers view a particular beer, nothing more.

Brewmance said...

Managing by intimidation shows a lack of managerial experience. Bit also keep in mind that most people in the country work for a corporation. All that I have read really isn't all that far away from the norm in the working world. I've seen plenty of my bosses yelling in peoples faces with spit flying all about. I don't work for a small business that has yoga time-outs with a joint being passed around. I also have benefits. I can see both sides. I don't like unfair treatment. I do however feel people are not equal. Harder work and better output should be rewarded. If someone isn't performing well... they should be made aware of that. I don't work for Rogue.. but so far all I see is the facts of life! I feel many in favor of the Rogue bashing are slightly disconnected from the corporate working world.

Shawn said...

With unemployment as high as it is, it's hard to believe that companies can't find good managers who use techniques other than the 'yell and spit' technique. It's inexcusably lazy for a company to allow those types of 'managers' to continue to have jobs.

Brewmance said...

@Shawn I fully agree, and I am guessing they either have already done that, or are in the process of it.

I am sure Rogue doesn't pipe in, because this is just a beer blog. It's not the whole world of people they sell beer to.

The influence beer 'media' feel they have over the masses I kind of find astounding sometimes.

Jeff Alworth said...

Well, I am surprised. Past posts of mine have earned me phone calls from one of the Joyces.

Chris said...

Re: Jeff's comment of, "Past posts of mine have earned me phone calls from one of the Joyces."

If this is something that's still under active mediation they may be exercising an internal "gag order" of sorts to keep shit from spinning out of control even further.

Don't forget, Mr. Joyce was a marketing exec at Nike, and if I'm not mistaken their board of directors also includes the former presidents of Nike and Adidas. If there's one thing they know, it' crafting and maintaining a positive image of their brand.

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