We haven’t written much about AB InBev brewery acquisitions in the last few years for the simple reason that there haven’t really been any to report—after a prolific period in the 2000s and early 2010s, the world’s largest beer company slowed the pace of its buyouts considerably, which happened to coincide with the overall cooling of the craft beer market. Following the 2017 acquisition of Asheville, NC’s Wicked Weed, it even seemed like AB InBev might be done with its acquisitions, but it had one last one flying under the radar in 2019, when it snapped up Ohio’s Platform Beer Co. And a couple years later, one important segment in particular is registering their disgust at how the company has been run in the two years since: Platform’s employees. Specifically, every single employee of the Columbus, OH Platform location, as they all resigned en masse this weekend, shuttering the Columbus taproom.
A note on the door reads the following: “The entire Platform Columbus crew has quit. The taproom is closed until further notice. Thank you!” It was accompanied by an open letter, which goes on to accuse the chain’s corporate AB InBev overseers of a variety of modes of mismanagement and unsafe working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can see the note and letter below. Platform’s ownership has since responded with a statement, which you can see at the end of this piece.
In the open letter, employees describe a workplace where lip service was paid to COVID-19 precautions in order to make customers feel safe, but say little was actually done to protect employees or customers when there was proof of exposure to infected persons. In particular, it cites an incident where it is alleged that a kitchen staffer tested positive for COVID-19, but the taproom wasn’t closed, and no attempt was made at contact tracing.
“We thought they were doing a good job [with COVID] in the beginning,” said former Platform employee Oliver Northern, speaking with local publication Columbus Alive. “The spacing in the taproom is well done, and there are plexiglass dividers. There was one time a driver came down from Cleveland and they let us know he had come down with COVID and we should get tested. But just that one time. When other employees got COVID, we didn’t hear it from management. We just heard it from being close and talking to each other.”
But a lax attitude on COVID restrictions is just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to the employee complaints. They also complain of being unable to earn a working wage when working for tips during the height of the pandemic, sometimes taking home $12 in tips after an eight-hour shift, with no additional support from ownership. More worrying still, they note other health hazards such as an unchecked outbreak of black mold in the brewery’s cooler and food storage area, which they say went unaddressed despite employee requests. In the replies to the Twitter thread above, you can see employee photos of that black mold outbreak.
“The shortsightedness of massively downsizing labor costs, under-appreciating employees, and ignoring the health and safety of staff in more ways than one is frustrating, and we think the brand and staff both suffer for it,” says the letter. “For the reasons listed above and others, we have all resigned. The taproom is closed and locked.”
This is obviously a very bad look for any brand, but especially one owned by the world’s largest alcoholic beverage company and its nigh limitless resources. One gets the sense that management of Platform Beer Co. may have been overextended for quite a while, as this small company operates no fewer than six different locations in Ohio. The following statement, which naturally acts as if all of these revelations are a total surprise unknown to anyone before this weekend, was issued from “Platform co-founders Justin Carson & Paul Benner,” although it would be more accurately described as a PR statement from AB InBev. The statement also rebukes employee claims about issues such as a lack of contact tracing, effectively calling the employees who quit liars. It reads as follows:
Today, Feb. 27, several employees at our Columbus taproom location abruptly resigned. We take this action extremely seriously and we are currently gathering more information about the issues that were raised. While we meet with current and former employees to learn more, we are temporarily closing our Columbus taproom.
Over the last year, our priority has been the health and safety of our employees and our guests. We have implemented health and safety protocols that closely follow CDC and local health authority guidelines, including contact tracing and proper communication following positive cases of COVID-19.
Platform was founded in 2014 on the premise that collaboration should be the cornerstone of everything that we do. This principle guides us as we brew beer and work to support the communities in our six locations across Ohio. Since day one, we have prided ourselves on working together to be the best brewer in the state and supporting our full team that works so hard toward that goal.
We are committed to making sure all of our employees know that their feedback will be heard anytime and anywhere. Starting on Monday, we will be scheduling small group conversations with all employees, across all locations as an open forum to ask questions so we can address any issues immediately.