Trillium Responds to Pay-Cut Backlash with New Worker Policies

The Fort Point brewery has tripled retail wages, among other efforts.

Trillium's JC and Esther Tetreault in the barreling mezzanine of the Canton brewery

Trillium’s JC and Esther Tetreault in the barreling mezzanine of the Canton brewery. / Photo by Toan Trinh for “Trillium Attempts to Move Past Cult Status”

Trillium Brewing Company took a public-relations cue from another retail giant and has raised some of its workers’ minimum wage to $15. The move is in direct response to backlash from Trillium fans who learned recently that the craft beer kings had cut some employees’ pay when their impressive new brewery opened in October. Among other developments announced last night, Trillium has increased the pay rate of 37 retail workers from $5-$8 plus tips to at least $16, and all new retail hires will start no lower than $15.

The Canton-headquartered, craft beer kingdom expanded in the Boston Seaport this fall. The sprawling space came hot on the heels of Trillium’s second successful season with its Greenway beer garden, soon after its first-ever beer festival, and news that Trillium has purchased a farm in Connecticut, where it plans to develop a destination brewery.

When the Seaport brewery opened, three retail employees were offered jobs there at a rate $3 less than they had been making at the original Fort Point location. They went from $8 an hour plus tips to $5. (They’re also receiving less tip money, but more on that in a minute.)

A three-year Trillium employee left in response to the pay cut, and other retail workers felt devalued, taking to online forums (notably, the beer rating and discussion website BeerAdvocate) to let beer fans know. The Boston Globe’s Nestor Ramos picked up the story just before Thanksgiving.

Trillium co-founder JC Tetreault told the Globe the pay cut was a mistake. Trillium added 152 jobs with the new Fort Point location, including ~15-30 people who moved from other Trillium operations, marketing director Jonathan Thompson says. The company employs nearly 290 people across departments, including full- and part-time workers.

The pay cut only affected three people because at some point, as the beer company grew to include the Greenway beer garden and last winter’s temporary Roslindale beer hall, it had already instated the lower, $5 base pay for new, retail hires.

It was the tipping issue for retail staff that was the main sticking point for customers learning about the turmoil, though. (Honestly, who knew we’ve been expected to tip workers 15 percent when buying a $100 case of beer?) At both the Canton and Fort Point taprooms, Trillium has completely separated retail counters and bars for ordering pints. I’m an across-the-board 20 percent tipper at bars (and I’m a Trillium regular), and it always struck me as optional, and unnecessary, to leave any gratuity on most can transactions.

But apparently, it took hearing loud disapproval on social media, and a tangible drop in sales, for Trillium to realize that it wasn’t a good look to expect customers to pay the people selling us $20-plus four-packs.

“There has been a slowdown” in business, co-founder Esther Tetreault told the Globe’s John Chesto this morning. “Mostly, it’s been a really unfortunate distraction for the whole team.”

To make up for the new expense of paying retail employees better, Trillium is slowing down its plans for the Connecticut farm-brewery, the Tetreaults told the Globe.

Trillium retail workers can still accept tips in addition to their tripled base pay, but the point-of-sale systems on the retail side of things will offer customers suggested 1, 3, or 5 percent options, instead of 5-15 percent. Other changes the Tetreaults shared with customers today include pay incentives for completing educational programs, and new, merit-based bonuses.

“Our retail employees have been the face of Trillium, helping you discover beer you will love. You value their knowledge and their hospitality and so do we,” the Tetreaults said in their statement.

These are impressive moves, and it’s bold for Trillium to share them so candidly. But you know who really deserves a raise? Trillium’s social media staff.