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Brother Justus Distillery Joins the Local Craft Beverage Unionization Wave

Ownership voluntarily recognized the union that 10 workers will form with Unite Here! Local 17.

9:11 AM CDT on September 15, 2021

Another Twin Cities craft beverage shop just unionized. 

All 10 workers at northeast Minneapolis’s Brother Justus Whiskey Co., including front-of-house and production staff, announced the formation of a new union Tuesday. Owner Phil Steger voluntarily recognized the union, which will fall under the umbrella of Unite Here! Local 17, the local hospitality union with 6,000-plus members.

"I'm so happy to help another group of amazing craft beverage workers unionize, these workers stood in 100% solidarity and chose to form a union," says Sheigh Freeberg, Unite Here’s secretary/treasurer. "Together we are showing Minnesota that the craft beverage industry is a union industry."

Freeberg has put in the work to make that vision a growing reality.

In the past two years, Unite Here has successfully organized unions at Tattersall Distilling, Du Nord Craft Spirits, Fair State Brewing Cooperative, Lawless Distilling, and Stilheart Distillery, while enduring tough losses at Spyhouse Coffee and Surly Brewing Co. It’s been the central organizer behind the local craft beverage unionization wave.

“Starting with Tattersall, unionizing has always been in the back of my mind,” says Carly Dahl, a bartender/server at Brother Justus. “We just started having conversations a couple months ago, and at a certain point it accelerated to where I reached out to Unite Here.”

Workers at Brother Justus are mostly happy, Dahl reports, and they appreciate working for a company that is “oriented toward social justice.” Their decision to unionize largely hinged on protecting their involvement in decision making. “We figured now would be a great time to do it, considering the company is going to be growing really quickly,” Dahl says. 

She is not exaggerating. 

Brother Justus raised $4.4 million in its most recent round of financing, Twin Cities Business reports. Best Buy CEO Corie Barry—whose $12 million annual compensation is 394 times larger than the median Best Buy worker’s—serves on the seven-year-old company’s board. 

Steger’s recognition of the union means Brother Justus workers can avoid an election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. Contract negotiations will begin soon, Dahl says, with an emphasis on things like healthcare and vacation time; friends and peers from fellow union shops are already sharing tips and best-practices.

For now, workers that make and serve Brother Justus’s Benedictine-style whiskey are simply enjoying their labor victory.

“We’re really excited to join that growing community of unionized craft beverage workers,” Dahl says. “People from Fair State and Tattersall have supported us in our drive and answered our questions—it’s really great to feel that sense of community and solidarity.”

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