Hoptellectual: On Picking Your Battles Wisely

Editor’s Note: My old Robocop-in-fighting-crime Todd Stevens (@TossStevens) offers a great perspective on the Ale Asylum/Union debacle. When Todd isn’t hanging out at the Nook in St. Paul or watching the Twins, he runs DVR Overflow. His analysis of Mad Men is spot on.

Last month, my former stomping grounds of Madison, Wis. were rocked by protest. Angry demonstrators brought out signs declaring their rage and demanding concessions for the working class. Battle lines were drawn and polarization was high.

I am referring not to the events surrounding the failed recall attempt of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, but to the scene outside the future home of Madison microbrewery Ale Asylum, the makers of Badger favorites like Hopalicious, Madtown Nutbrown, Bedlam IPA and others. The company has been the subject of a recent informational picket from the local building trades council for using nonunion works in a new construction project.

Despite my dramatic introduction, the hubbub of controversy surrounding Ale Asylum never came close to the anti-Walker protests, though it was an off-shoot of sorts. What the protesters lacked in size and publicity, however, they more than made up for in irrationality.

Some background: Ale Asylum is currently in the process of moving into a new brewery that will offer more space, modern amenities and greater accessibility to the beer drinking public. That’s awesome, because it will mean more delicious Ale Asylum beer for alcohol-loving Wisconsinites, in addition to hopefully aiding the company in their plans to gradually expand their distribution, potentially to the entire upper Midwest at some point.

This new brewery is currently under construction near Madison’s local airport, which means hiring numerous workers to complete everything from the plumbing to the electrical work. And naturally, since a person can’t sneeze in Madison without the issue of unions coming up (“That tissue you just sneezed into better have been made with UNION LABOR, sonny!”), the pro-union crowd got wind that some of the contractors working on the building weren’t unionized. Cue outrage!

Never mind that, according to Vice President Otto Dilba, Ale Asylum was not even directly responsible for hiring the contractors (they do not own the building and the general contractor was in charge of choosing individual sub-contractors). In addition, Dilba released an impassioned post via Facebook regarding his own love of the union cause, detailing why he would never intentionally snub union workers.

Unfortunately for Ale Asylum, nobody bothered to check this out before the protests started—and if they had, based on the unsatisfied response seen in some of the comments on Dilba’s statement, it appears they wouldn’t have been satisfied. This is a crowd that had been so radicalized by the past year of Budget Repair Bill hysteria that any action from anybody that wasn’t 100 percent pro organized labor made them the enemy.

This whole attitude is patently ridiculous. Ale Asylum itself was clearly a few degrees removed from any effrontery toward the union contractors whose bids never received a response. And even if the company had directly chosen nonunion labor, the protest would still strain credulity. Ale Asylum is a locally owned private company—one that pays its own workers good wages and makes a damn good product. You’re going to smear a brewery that otherwise does everything right, simply because it doesn’t follow your single-issue driven ideology in lockstep? Then you’re a fool.

I would also be curious how far the hand of shame is supposed to stretch. If we are to be angry with Ale Asylum for associating with contractors that associate with nonunion subcontractors, should I also be angry with bars that serve Ale Asylum? Should we be angry with organizations that host functions at bars that serve Ale Asylum? After all, if Ale Asylum becomes immoral by extension when they work with the wrong contractor, don’t other establishments then become immoral by extension if they associate with Ale Asylum, and so on and so forth?

Even if their cause is more just, in the end the dejected anti-Walkerites standing outside the shell of Ale Asylum 2.0 are not much different from the bigots boycotting General Mills after that company’s recent opposition to the proposed Minnesota gay marriage ban. Gay marriage has nothing to do with Cheerios. Unionized electricians have nothing to do with Madtown Nutbrown. I like both Cheerios and Madtown Nutbrown, so I will continue to consume both frequently, albeit not together because that would taste somewhat disgusting.

I would suggest that the union protesters of Wisconsin do the same and stop dragging products into political fights where they don’t belong. Ale Asylum, being a private company and not a governmental entity, should be allowed to conduct its business as it sees fit, especially considering it already puts forth every effort to try and act responsibly. Based on the hyper-polarization of my beloved Badger State over the past two years, however, I fully anticipate the angry picketers to ignore my advice and go on attacking the real evil in this world: their local brewery.

Mad as hell and not going to take it anymore? Tell us on Facebook, Twitter or send an email to mwbeercollective@gmail.com.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Hoptellectual: On Picking Your Battles Wisely

  1. Union tradeworkers picketing a non-union construction site is nothing new, and certainly is well within their rights. While the union should have directed their complaints against the contractor as opposed to Ale Asylum, this isn’t some sort of new phenomenon brought about by the rancor of the recall election.

    As for the dragging products into political fights, I can agree that in this case Ale Asylum had no cause to be targeted. But if a corporate entity decides to wade into the political realm they are most definitely fair game. My father has owned his own business for close to 30 years and he NEVER displays any corporate political preference nor does his firm belong to any partisan organization. As an owner he would be well within his rights to do so if he chose, but any consequential revenue loss from aggrieved clients would be rightly deserved. He always taught me that there was no advantage to alienating one side of the spectrum over something so meaningless as politics.

    • You raise a valid point that businesses are completely aware that their political stances will have consequences before they make their views public. My feeling is that, from the perspective of a consumer, boycotting JCPenney or Chick-fil-A is an improper and usually ineffective mixing of the commercial and political spheres.

  2. Anonymous

    Mmmmm Maybe Madtown Nutbrown and Honey Nut Cheerios!?!?

  3. Pingback: Happy July Fourth and Morning Roundup « The Heavy Table – Minneapolis-St. Paul and Upper Midwest Food Magazine and Blog

  4. Anonymous

    I’m a regular reader of this blog. I find the postings insightful and very well written. Then I read this piece, which I find neither insightful nor well written. I think it’s important that you read a comment written in response to Otto Dilba’s Facebook post.

    “I work for IBEW Local 159, the electrician’s union in Madison. Two of our contractors contacted the general contractor for the Ale Asylum project to get the materials to bid the job. They were told that there was a hold up on the blueprints and then the job was awarded with them never receiving the information to allow them to bid. So no union electrical bid the project because they were denied the opportunity to bid. That is what was unfair at this project. Yes you list a couple of contractors that are union, but the vast majority of the workers and contractors at the job are nonunion. Many receive no health insurance or pension or any other benefits from their contractors. To often this model is used – no benefits, no apprenticeship training, lowest wages. This low road model allows cheap contractors to undercut responsible companies that pay benefits and to then not even let union companies bid is even worse. Ale Asylum may not have actively known that the general contractor they hired did this, but we were there to raise that awareness. Yes, companies don’t know everything that their suppliers do – the UW using sweatshops for UW merchandise is a classic example. But we need to bring it out and ask for businesses to do the right thing.”

    Your opinion piece is fraught with emotion that, unfortunately, undermines and poisons much of your writing. I wonder if anyone affected by the financial crisis feels that private, nongovernmental companies should be allowed to conduct business as they see fit? I wonder if Otto’s father—the lifelong trade unionist—would be happy with Ale Asylum’s handling of this situation?

    • I’m sorry you disagree with my post, Mr. Anonymous. If you don’t appreciate my writing style then so be it, you are entitled to your opinion, though I honestly don’t put much stock in the opinion of someone who can’t even be bothered to attach their name to a WordPress comment.

      As far as my actual argument, which you never really counter, I stand by all of it. I read the comment you included in its entirety before writing my post and it doesn’t contradict anything I wrote. Any decision not to use union labor was not made by Ale Asylum but by an affiliated party. The other questions you bring up are simply straw men.

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