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.