Trillium Increases Hourly Wages for Retail Workers

Nearly two weeks after a self-described former employee raised questions about Trillium Brewing Company’s labor and brewing practices in an online forum, the Massachusetts craft beer maker has increased the hourly base pay for its retail employees.

In a blog entry posted Wednesday to Trillium’s website, titled “Always Improving,” brewery founders JC and Esther Tetreault said they have increased the pay of their 35 retail workers from between $5 and $8 an hour to an hourly rate of between $15 and $18, plus tips, to provide their employees “with a more predictable paycheck.”

Additionally, retail employees have the opportunity to increase their hourly wages as they complete educational programs. The company is also transitioning its bonus program from a tenure-based system to one with a “merit-based component.”

Scrutiny of Trillium’s labor practices began in late November when a former employee, who used the name “Abagofit” on the Beer Advocate forum, wrote that Trillium had cut the hourly base compensation for long-time employees from $8 to $5 prior to the opening of a new brewery, taproom and restaurant in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood. The poster also claimed Trillium cut corners in the brewing process.

The Tetreaults, who founded Trillium in 2013 and helped popularize the hazy and juicy New England-style of IPAs, have since called the pay cuts a mistake, which they quickly moved to correct by restoring the pay of the two workers affected.

Speaking to Brewbound, JC and Esther Tetreault cited the “growing pains” of opening their Fort Point outpost, which doubled the size of the company’s workforce, along with a lack of communication for the issues.

Trillium — which has grown to include the Fort Point operation; a brewery and taproom in Canton; a seasonal beer garden on the Rose Kennedy Greenway; and a proposed farmhouse brewery in Connecticut — now employs 286 workers. About two-thirds of those employees — including 22 retail staff members — are full-time and receive benefits, such as health and dental insurance, 401k with a company match and free beer.

“We’ve got a lot of managers and there are a lot of people that make Trillium as successful as it is,” Esther Tetreault told Brewbound. “Sometimes decisions are made that aren’t the right thing or things get missed. So JC and I take responsibility for that, or for Trillium in general, but we don’t make every decision in every element of the business anymore. So that was unfortunate.”

She added that the difference between the roles of retail workers and bar staff became apparent once the Fort Point operation opened in October. She said consumers who had dined at the restaurant and then bought beer to-go from retail staff were confused when prompted to tip.

The Tetreaults said it’s unclear if sales have been affected by the backlash, but they said they weren’t willing to wait to make changes. In formulating a plan moving forward, they said they consulted with their leadership team as well as an unidentified crisis communications firm.

“This was something that was outside of our experience and our comfort that we did ask for some help,” JC Tetreault said.

In order to cover the pay increases, Trillium is looking at slowing down its plans to open a Connecticut farmhouse brewery, which the company purchased in September, the Tetreaults said.

Meanwhile, the Tetreaults also addressed quality concerns and accusations of illegal practices made by the self-described former employee, including allegations that Trillium dumped tequila into barrels of beer and promoted the product as barrel-aged to consumers.

“As a practice we do not add spirits to our beer, we do not market beers as barrel-aged if they do not spend time in barrels, and the beer we fill our growlers with is no different than our packaged beer,” the Tetreaults wrote. “All of our beer is constantly monitored by our retail team, quality assurance lab, and production team.”

Asked by Brewbound if Trillium had ever poured spirits into its beer barrels, Esther Tetreault said “that is not something we do.”

“We get all of our barrels wet,” she explained. “So from port to sherry to tequila to rum, those barrels all have residual alcohol in them, which is the whole reason that it imparts that flavor.”

Another theory posited in online forums was that Trillium’s founders were cutting corners due to selling to a private equity or venture capital firm. The Tetreaults told Brewbound that they have not sold a stake in the business.

“We’ve grown with cash flow and traditional bank loans,” JC Tetreault told Brewbound. “It’s our goal and intention to always own Trillium for the rest of our lives. We get approached, but it’s not even in the sphere of possibility.”

“Our core value is integrity and control,” Esther Tetreault added. “That’s one of the reasons that we choose to sell direct-to-consumers instead of distributing because we want to maintain control of the experience that the customer has, of the quality of the product.”

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