This morning, the entire kitchen and hospitality staff at Surly Brewing Co. received emails from management who “regretted” to inform workers that the company had “decided to permanently layoff” their positions.
This would be a gut punch even in ordinary circumstances, but since these same workers had informed management of their intentions to unionize barely 48 hours prior, organizer Sheigh Freeberg of Unite Here Local 17 interprets the large-scale layoff as malevolent.
"Surly sent out a WARN notice letting employees know they will be laid off November 2,” he said. “This is a clearly illegal and disgusting action from the employer retaliating against them for exercising their rights to form a union."
The organizer estimated on Monday that 110 workers had joined the push for unionizing at Surly. "As far as I’m aware, all hospitality front of house and back of house is laid off. A supermajority of them signed union cards.”
Shortly after the layoff notices were distributed, Surly announced to the public that it would be closing its Beer Hall “indefinitely” on the same date workers would lose their jobs. They wrote:
“As we complied fully with the safety measures, it became clear that beer halls are by definition gathering places and gathering places and pandemics don’t mix. Because of this, we have made the gut-wrenching decision to close the Beer Hall indefinitely on Nov. 2.” The timing of this announcement, they admitted, “is not ideal.”
When asked about Surly’s closure statement, Freeberg said, “We believe it is intentional and illegal. There were talks about them intending to continue their 'grab and go' operations through the winter. With the employer talking to workers to see who would be interested in it.”
“This is clearly retaliatory against what we're doing,” said Megan Caswell, a Surly front-of-house employee who’s worked at the brewery for more than five years. “We approach them on Monday, and two days later we get this notice. So it just seems like the timing says it all, right?”
Though Surly’s statement says they had planned to announce the Beer Hall’s closure for weeks, their daily operations suggest otherwise. “They had recently hired about 12 new people, like within the last couple of weeks,” says Caswell.
“I haven't even worked with all of them yet. It was almost entirely front of house, hospitality. They were all training in to host, run food…. Some of them haven't even had all of the training shifts yet.”
So, does Surly envision workers showing up for shifts until November?
With additional reporting from Jay Boller