Trillium Labor Practices, Brewing Methods Questioned

Massachusetts craft beer maker Trillium Brewing Company’s labor practices and brewing methods are under scrutiny after accusations were lodged last week by a self-described former employee in an online beer forum.

According to the former employee, who used the name “Abagofit” in a Beer Advocate forum, Trillium required its retail employees to reapply for jobs that they already held prior to last month’s opening of the company’s new brewery, taproom and restaurant in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood. The ex-worker wrote that the base compensation for employees who had worked for more than three years at the brewery was cut from $8 an hour to $5 an hour to “work the exact same job across the street.”

“That may not sound like a lot, but that is a 37.5% cut that would be ~$6000 a year for full time staff,” the worker wrote.

In Massachusetts, the state minimum wage is $11 an hour, although the minimum wage is just $3.75 an hour for tipped employees. The state mandates employees receive at least $11 per hour once tips and wages are added in. If an employee’s’ wages and tips don’t add up to $11 an hour, it’s up to the employer to make up the difference.

The former employee claimed that JC and Esther Tetreault, who founded the brewery in 2013 and helped popularize the hazy and juicy New England-style of IPAs, knew they could get workers to accept lower salaries in order to build their resumes. Despite the wage cuts, the worker acknowledged that retail staff make “well over minimum wage” and “might be the highest paid staff per hour (with tips) in the entire place.”

“The issue is not about total compensation,” the ex-worker continued. “It’s about management pretending to care about employees and calling them family etc. … then cutting wages and making them lie to customers.”

JC Tetreault declined to be interviewed for this story, writing in an email that the company is still attempting to “unravel how we got here.” He referred Brewbound to a statement the company issued on its website Monday evening.

In that statement — addressed to the company’s “customers, friends, and family” — the company said it had restored the base compensation of tenured employees whose pay was cut.

“We apologize that this has caused any of our employees, customers or friends to doubt, in any way, the integrity of Trillium or their ongoing support of us,” the company said. “We are fortunate that we’ve assembled such a talented team and remain committed to brewing exceptional beer that we can share with our family, friends, and customers.”

Trillium added that it is working with the Massachusetts Brewers Guild to start a discussion with other local breweries to “help each other identify best practices for the benefit of our employees and our customers.”

“We pay our team in accordance with typical standards in the craft beer industry and with state and federal wage and hour laws,” the company wrote. “Feedback on our model from our staff has been overwhelmingly positive. We listen to feedback and try to respond quickly to improve the experience for our team and our customers.”

In a note posted to Beer Advocate thread and Facebook fan forum last week, Tetreault admitted that the company had made a “mistake” in “resetting all retail employees hourly wage to $5 an hour instead of leaving the tenured folks where they were.” Still, he said the company — which has grown to include a brewery and taproom in Canton; a new brewery, taproom and restaurant brewery in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood; a seasonal beer garden on the Rose Kennedy Greenway; and a proposed farmhouse brewery in Connecticut — has discussed tipped versus non-tipped service models “several times over the years” and employees “overwhelmingly” want to maintain the current system.

“Every business has to choose the approach that feels best for them and their teams,” he wrote. “For us, this allows us to offer greater staffing levels to keep wait times to a minimum, balances the workload for our team, and gives customers the option to tip which is why we started in the first place.”

The Boston Globe reported that about two-thirds of Trillium’s 285 workers are full-time and eligible to receive benefits, which include health and dental insurance, 401(k) with company match, an annual cash bonus, free beer and annual charitable donation matching.

Nevertheless, a current employee told the Globe that tips have decreased since Trillium’s new Fort Point outpost opened in late October.

“We’re dissatisfied because the number that we’ve been getting in our checks has dropped, and not insignificantly,” a current employee told the outlet.

Since the issues were raised last week, customers have left scathing comments on social media posts advertising new release beers priced at as much as $22.20 a 4-pack. One commenter shared a photoshopped label of Trillium’s “Cutting Tiles” double IPA with the name changed to “Cutting Wages.”

Staff pay wasn’t the only issue raised in the Beer Advocate forum. The former employee also accused Trillium of cutting corners in the brewing process, including pouring tequila into kegs of a beer and promoting the beer as being barrel-aged to consumers. The commenter also claimed that management instructed workers to lie to customers about the beer’s origins and later tell consumers that the tequila flavor was “brewers magic.”

“They straight up dumped tequila into the kegs,” the commenter wrote. “I’m no lawyer, but I know that is illegal.”

Trillium has yet to address those allegations.

The poster also claimed frozen beer slushies were made from leftover beer that contained “trub” (a hop/yeast/malt byproduct that settles at the bottom of fermentation tanks), and growlers are also filled with trub kegs.

In the Beer Advocate thread, Tetreault explained that because Trillium’s beer in unfiltered, “a small amount of trub” is typical in kegs at the end of a packaging run.

“We give these time to allow the kegs to settle and pour out the trub until the beer is pouring properly,” he wrote. “Our lab, QC team, and retail teams monitor to ensure that the quality meets the standard of the rest of the main batch and if it doesn’t it gets dumped. It would be wasteful to throw good beer out.”

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