Surly employee union calls closure 'retaliation', brewery says decision was weeks in the making

Two days after Surly Brewing Company employees formed a union, the brewery announced an indefinite closure of its Beer Hall, which the union called retaliation, but the brewery says was a decision weeks in the making.

“Today Surly Brewing Company took disgusting and illegal actions to permanently lay-off its entire hospitality staff starting Nov. 2nd. This is CLEAR retaliation for them forming a Union,” said Unite Here Local 17 in a tweet Wednesday.

In response, Surly Brewing Company said the timing of the announcement is “not ideal” but that plans had been in the works to close the Brew Hall for weeks.

“On Monday, some hospitality employees notified us of their intent to unionize,” the Brewery said in its statement. “We respect their decision to turn to an outside organization for representation and will continue the dialogue. That does not change the fact that our plans to close the beer hall were put in place weeks ago with the announcement planned for this week.”

Surly Beer Hall staff members formed the union Monday, citing safety concerns amid the pandemic.

The group wrote in a release that before reopening in June, "we voiced concerns about our safety regarding the new counter-service model. Despite our efforts, changes were only made after Mayor Frey announced an emergency regulation forbidding guests from ordering at bar areas. Additionally, we were misled regarding the distribution of a new service charge, as well as the availability of benefits to returning employees."

"In a time of uncertainty, our demands include open conversations and mutual transparency. As dedicated employees, we deserve a say in changes that affect our compensation, health insurance, and employment. Unite Surly Workers is inviting leadership to recognize our unionization effort in order to create a more equitable and collaborative workplace."

The brewery said the closure is due to revenues being down 82 percent from last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and said, if the Beer Hall stayed open, Surly would lose another three quarters of a million dollars this winter.

“We ran all the numbers,” said Surly’s statement. “We looked at all the possibilities. But try as we might to find a way to keep the doors open and our team employed, the writing was on the wall: there was no longer a way forward for the beer hall.”

The brewery said Wednesday’s announcement does not mean the end of Surly Brewing.

“As we close the doors of the beer hall, we’re still moving forward. We’ll adapt, change, pivot, and change again. Please support your local bars and restaurants as they face the tough times ahead,” the brewery said in a statement.