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Production workers for Great Lakes Brewing Company, the oldest and largest craft brewery in Ohio, signed union cards at the United Steelworkers union hall Sunday in a declaration of their intent to unionize.
An internal organizing committee had been working through the ebbs and flows of the pandemic to build support for a union. And after talking with a number of local chapters, the committee voted to affiliate with USW for its rich history in Northeast Ohio, its democratic processes and its abundance of resources for local workers.
Signing union cards is the first step in the unionization process for the workers who staff the GLBC warehouse, drive the trucks, brew and bottle the product and maintain the facilities. (This does not encompass restaurant workers at the Great Lakes brewpub.) The cards signal to the National Labor Relations Board that the workers want to have a union election.
The NLRB will now seek an election agreement between Great Lakes and the union to coordinate next steps.
"We feel very good about where we're at right now," a member of the Great Lakes Organizing Committee (GLOC), who requested anonymity, told Scene. "The overwhelming majority of workers love working at Great Lakes. We wouldn't be doing this otherwise. A lot of people think that unions are a referendum on working conditions, but for most of us, it's about making a good place to work a great place to work."
The GLOC member said that the benefits at Great Lakes were why many workers have elected to stay there, even if they might be able to command higher wages elsewhere. Preserving those benefits in a formal union contract was important for many who signed cards, as was having an actual seat at the table in company decisions. (Great Lakes, which was founded in 1986 in Ohio City, is technically "employee-owned.")
The committee is hopeful that Great Lakes will voluntarily recognize the union and respect the desire to have a fair union election. The committee also believes that the union effort could be a catalyst for unionization at other microbreweries, or even a craft beer labor movement. Regardless, the committee believes the effort would produce a windfall of good will in the region.
"Yes this is about giving us a voice, but we also feel that a union would be good for [Great Lakes'] business," the GLOC member said. "People are going to love buying union-made craft beer in Cleveland."
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