A Plea for Fair Compensation in Beer

If you are reading this article, I am sure you are aware that the craft beer industry is booming.  Every day, new recipes are being created, never been tasted beer is tapped and new employees are hired to make, serve and sell the beer. The economic impact is one of the greatest things about the beer industry. $1.6 billion was contributed to the economy in Colorado in 2013, a huge portion of that coming from jobs alone.

Lately, I have noticed a trend that is putting these jobs in jeopardy. This isn’t a trend that is new, in fact, you probably participated in this trend at some point in your life. But you were called an intern, and you probably got college credit for it. It is even a trend that is affecting other industries too, the use of free labor. The problem is this trend is changing. No longer are breweries asking their relatives and childhood friends to help ‘em out, but are now asking for highly qualified candidates to work FOR FREE for their brand.

It’s no secret that smaller and newer breweries often rely on very-part-time employees and volunteers. The money just isn’t there yet for a fulltime marketer, sales rep or assistant brewer and there are too many events and not enough people. There is nothing wrong with utilizing your resources in most cases. In fact, my first position in a brewery was volunteer. I volunteered in the Pateros Creek Brewing Co. taproom, making only tips. But I nannied for them as well, they were my family, and I didn’t mind helping out family when they needed it to make their dreams come true.  Just like the family of Loveland Aleworks, and West Flanders Brewing Co. My fellow volunteers at Pateros Creek included the brewer’s mother, sister and brother-in-law, who all helped fill in the slots until they could hire someone trained to handle it.

These newly funded positions are opening up every day in production, packaging and sales with more than enough applicants to fill them. People have moved to Colorado in search of a career in beer. Not to mention, if you asked someone who already lives here if they would work at a brewery, the answer would probably be a loud “when can I start?. I even get several emails a month even asking if my blog is hiring (Sorry folks, I don’t even get paid for this). Clearly, there is no shortage of labor in this industry, and in most cases it is passionate, dedicated labor. Some breweries are now starting to take advantage of that with more and more volunteers.

There was recently an “incident” that made this issue weigh on my mind for over a week, until I just had to write this post. The Fort Collins Brewery recently sent out a call to staff a “Street Team”. I use the word staff because they sent out a full job description asking for highly qualified candidates to help rep and sell their brand. The kicker, there is no compensation for this job. But wait….there’s more! If you call right now, you get free beer and shwag as “bonuses”! Plus, the best workers might possibly, maybe, in the far future, get a REAL JOB! That’s right folks, they are throwing in a free carrot, just for you.

I have often referred to Fort Collins Brewery as “the forgotten brewery”. Their community involvement just isn’t there. Their sales prove it, with the majority of their money coming from out of state (SOURCE: Doug SMith, Operations Managers Fort Collins BRewery, Beverage Business Institute Presentation, 2013). But, they have been trying in the last couple years to change that. They hired a new marketer, Charles Stanley, who reached out to me and the groups I was associated with, and his efforts made me and my groups stop by the taproom more often, even just to share a chat with Stanley. But then something changed again, and Stanley left, and I am not cool with this new direction, especially the “street team”.  I can see how Fort Collins Brewery can see this as a way to get involved with community, create a following, and be more visible. But by doing this you are hurting the industry as a whole, as well as yourselves.

You may or may not know, but I get paid to do the exact same job Fort Collins Brewery has posted for their “street team”, as do many of my friends who I get to see on a regular basis at beer fests and other events, repping other brands. Unfortunately, now our jobs may be in danger. Why would a smaller brewery with less income pay us to do our jobs when Fort Collins Brewery, a much larger company, is getting the labor for free?

Let’s take this out a step further. Why would the consumer pay $6 for your premium beer when they know the person serving it is working for free? Not paying your employees goes as far back as that economic impact study. You are not providing jobs for our community. You are not part of the cash flow through our economy. You are simply taking when you ask for free labor. Taking time, money, and community away from the craft beer industry.

This is my plea to all breweries, not just Fort Collins Brewery, to fairly compensate your employees. Many are highly trained, whether it be Cicerone, the BBI or other fermentation programs. They deserve to be compensated for their time and talents. Spreading the word of your brand for free is YOUR job, not theirs. They have homes to pay for and families to feed, and unfortunately, one cannot live off beer and and t-shirts alone.


POST EDIT: I added in some sources, as so many of you have come forward saying I am making this up. It is hard to make up something that I can link directly too (the job description). I would also like to thank the FCB employees (and their SOs) for their harassing emails, prank phone calls and facebook status messages. You see, I did my research and traced your emails and phone numbers so you are not as anonymous as you think you are. My intention was to open up discussion on an issue that is effecting the industry as whole, something you have a huge part in, and you choose to respond in the most inapproriate way possible. Just because we are in the same industry doesn’t mean I have to agree to and bow down to your way of business. Rather than agree to disagree you have chosen to take a sad path and hurt the industry even more with your actions. How are we supposed to say our industry is open and collaborative when you viciously attack at a moments notice?

As far as the mean, hate filled emails from FCB employees (and their SOs), I have received more than double “thank you” emails from industry (and many former FCB employees) for being willing to speak up on this issue and tell someone what they are doing it not right. And it is no secret why these people are afraid to speak up, because doing so gets your head on a steak by immature people unwilling to open lines of discussion, but rather act hatefully and rashly.




Filed under Beer News

9 responses to “A Plea for Fair Compensation in Beer

  1. Thank you for bringing awareness to a subject matter that currently affects many industries both in the US and Europe. Having lived in several emerging markets, I can attest to the fact that “Free Labor”, “Internships” and other forms of unpaid work, are signals of weak economies where opportunities are scarce and labor forces abundant. The interesting differentiating fact is that in the US, unpaid work gets branded as a cool way to “get involved” which makes it very difficult to shine the light on. Unpaid work is, in my view, a sign of a weak economy not something to look forward to. There is capital to pay for talent. The real problem is that investors want larger ROI’s. Articles such as yours help bring awareness to a problem that will only get worse if people don’t speak up.

  2. Robbie

    This article does shed light on some issues in the beer industry. I am not talking about the subject matter, but about the people emerging in the industry who do not understand the camaraderie that has built this industry I love. There are too many people going around who are self glorified bloggers that voice their opinion, which is fine, everyone has their freedom of speech. The issue is that they don’t understand the case fully because they do not take the time to ask for input from all parties involved. I bet (actually I know for a fact) you did not ask Fort Collins Brewery for an interview to understand what they were trying to accomplish. Instead you jumped straight to conclusions and wrote this article, which contradicts itself and is full of misinformed information. This is what separates the professionals who do countless hours of research by conducting interviews by all parties involved before writing an article AND amateurs who would rather badmouth a fellow in the industry then understand what it is they are trying to accomplish. As my mother always said if you can’t say anything nice, please don’t say anything at all. I urge people to please stop supporting such negative, misinformed bloggers who do nothing but in turn misinform the reader and consumer. Any negative words to any brewery are negative words towards the industry. If we intend to survive, we need to stand together against the other 85% of the pie. Trust me, there is plenty of the pie left for Craft Beer to survive. It’s how we go about it that determines how successful we will become.
    As far as the article goes… The job posting clearly states that there is a position available for a street team to promote the brewery by helping out with events. It says nothing about these volunteers selling the beer as you stated. Correct me if I am wrong, but EVERY brewery does this. As I know from experience. Any festival we go to is staffed by a representative from the brewery and VOLUNTEERS who help us serve out beer. Even the big event every year in Denver (you all know which one I refer to) has volunteers who pour at it all for free entry. Shame on you big beer festival for devaluing the industry, you should be paying these people. The only difference between what FCB is doing and what EVERY OTHER BREWERY is doing is that they are using people that are seeking an education and need the hours for their degree. It’s called an intern (as the job posting states). In my opinion this is ingenious!! Not only are we getting the volunteers we need to staff these events, but they are helping a college student enter into a career that they want to be a part of. And clearly we need more educated people in this industry if we intend for it to survive. Let me help you understand why it is that these volunteers are needed. Most of these event what would need the “street team” are event’s for a charitable cause or festivals that require a keg donation. No matter how big a brewery you are, it is hard to not get paid for your product and have to pay someone to attend the festival for you. I think all of us breweries should actually follow in FCB footsteps and hire well educated individuals who worked hard for their degree to represent our products. There have been too many times that I have seen or even had volunteers who don’t know the product or have the respect and passion to talk about the product we make with love.
    I want it to be known that I do not work for FCB, I work for a different brewery in the Denver area. I just wanted to take the time and stick up for a comrade and even more, Craft Beer as a whole.
    P.S. There was a blogger who was recently on a radio show and promoted her blog and book and did not pay a cent for it. There are craft beer companies who pay for advertising so that that show can be enjoyed. You should write an article about how that person has devalued the radio show by taking advantage of it. Or was she just using smart PR tactics? Not much different than the subject matter of this article…..

    • Thanks for your response Robbie, and for the personal attacks that have nothing to do with this issue. But you are missing exactly what you said, I am a blogger, and just that. You are confusing “blogger” with “journalist”. You are the one giving me credibility by taking time out to comment and attack who I am.

      As for “misinformed”, I went off the information that I was given by Fort Collins Brewery in a press release. Which if that was misinformation, that than that is not my fault. Not once on that press release, or the job description, was the word “intern” ever used. I did my research on this before I wrote it, I asked my peers. The people who buy the beer and the people who would apply for this “Street Team”. The responses varied from “morally wrong” to, “is this from the onion?”

      You also must have missed the whole beginning part of my opinion piece, where I addressed scenarios in which volunteers are totally acceptable, and that I have even been one, and still am. I then addressed where I thought the line was being crossed.

      And we are same page there with comrade, which is exactly why I think FCB is out of line in the way they are approaching their “intern program”. They are not being team players.

      PS The phrase “if you dont have anything nice…blah blah blah” has created a nation of people who an unable to accept any form of criticism, and I won’t accept that as a valid argument to why I am wrong (or a bad person, not sure what your point was), especially from someone who has nothing nice to say

      • Robbie

        I apologize, you are right. The job posting said nothing about it being an intern job. I had made a call to FCB after reading this and they had said that this was an Intern position.Had you contacted FCB prior to writing this, you would have found out the same.

        You have completely missed my 2 points.

        1) Everyone has volunteers. I commend FCB for bringing on educated people that are over qualified to be volunteers. I see where you think the “line has been crossed”, but I feel that it has been crossed for the better.

        2) It has nothing to do with people being sensitive or unable to accept criticism. The point is that people who “say” they are in the craft industry are starting negative blogs about the industry. If you don’t like they way things are being done, start the conversation with the brewery. If you don’t like where the conversation is going let it be. A negative remark about one member of the industry is a negative remark about the industry as a whole.

        For anyone who is reading this, as I mentioned, I work with various breweries in the Denver area. If anyone is looking for a volunteer position like the one posted by FCB please contact me personally.

        I will fit you with the appropriate brewery and if needed I can sign off for your internship.
        You can volunteer through ANY brewery in the Denver area or at ANY festival in the Denver area.

        Either way, its the same thing.

        Thank you, for bringing this issue to hand. If has made me realize that the FCB way is the way that breweries should be going. Choose the people who volunteer to pour your beer so that they represent your brewery in the best way possible. Way to be innovative FCB, this is what we rely on for larger breweries to lead the way.

  3. Jeff

    Wow…A blog post this naïve, ignorant, hyperbolic, and self-indulgent could only be written by someone with little to no serious industry experience. What a profound insult to all those who have sweated their butts off by volunteering for a brewery they love, to gain the experiences that have taken them far in this industry. I would say I’m looking forward to reading your justification for such regurgitated dribble, but I have a real job in the alcoholic beverage industry to get back to. Good luck with your blog Lauren…You’re gonna need it!

    • Thanks for your response Jeff. Again, people are not actually reading the article. I have no problem with volunteers at a brewery, I have a problem with a brewery asking for highly qualified experienced people for no compensation with the tease of a real job. If I am regurgitating information, than I am regurgitating what was fed to me via the FCB and their press release and job posting.

      As far as experience, please feel free to request a copy of my resume.

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