Brewing Success: USW Members Turn Out High-Quality Beer at Historic Minnesota Company


Customers who purchase beer from Minnesota’s August Schell Brewing are getting far more than just a high-quality, union-crafted beverage.

In each case, buyers get a package of top-to-bottom USW-made products, including the beer, the boxes, the bottles – even the sand used to make the glass. Down the line, USW members ensure customers receive the highest quality merchandise on the market.

“It all starts in the brew hall, and we follow it right on through to the package on the dock,” Eric Stade, president of Local 11-118, said of the brewery workers’ dedication to making top-of-the-line suds.

Stade’s local, which represents the approximately 25 hourly workers at the Schell brewing site in New Ulm, is one of four USW units involved in producing the contents of those cases of Schell beer. The others include Local 1259, which makes boxes for PCA, Local 129M, which produces bottles for Anchor Glass, and Local 460G, which supplies the sand used in the glassmaking process. All four are located in Minnesota.

Historic Location

The Schell brewery, which sits along the Cottonwood River in the small, picturesque town of New Ulm, is the oldest brewery in the Midwest, and the second-oldest in the country. The company, founded by German immigrant August Schell in 1860, is still owned and operated by Schell’s descendants. The charming 22-acre worksite resembles a Victorian-era German village, giving visitors the feeling they’ve been transported back in time.

The company regularly celebrates that heritage with annual Bock Fest and Oktoberfest events, while maintaining an on-site museum, open to the public, that tells the colorful story of the brewery’s history.

historic location

Inside the production facility, the beer-making process is far from old-fashioned. USW members combine old-school recipes with new technologies to create an award-winning lineup of beers. The Schell brand is a legacy that workers hope to uphold for generations to come.

Stade, who has worked at the brewery for more than 20 years, said he takes pride in knowing that he’s contributing a chapter to that story.

“This is my little thumbprint on the continuation of something,” he said. “That’s kind of neat.”

Dedicated to Quality

Like Stade, the other two dozen or so USW members at the Schell site take similar pride in their work, whether their role is in brewing, maintenance, bottling, distribution or the warehouse.

“The pride runs far deeper than just the family,” said company Vice President Kyle Marti, a sixth-generation descendant of founder August Schell. “We are very lucky to have the employees we have here.”

Pride runs deeper than just the family

The family puts their company's future directly in those dedicated workers’ hands, entrusting them with century-old recipes and encouraging them to develop new beer flavors of their own creation.

Brewer Jordan Walls, who started working at Schell in September of 2022, created the company’s peanut butter porter, one of the brewery’s more popular limited-edition flavors.

Extensive Lineup

Walls and the other USW members at Schell put in five- or six-day weeks, producing between 6,500 and 7,500 cases per day, as well as kegs. During a recent USW@Work visit to the site, the brewery had 19 varieties of beer available in the public tap house, along with two non-alcoholic sodas. One of those, the 1919 draft root beer, is a throwback to when the company had to survive Prohibition by selling root beer and other non-alcoholic beverages.

Extensive Variety

Schell’s offerings are available for purchase in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska and North and South Dakota.

Many of the workers at Schell are also regular customers, sometimes stopping in the tap house at the end of their shifts to socialize with co-workers before heading home. The large room, resembling an old German beer hall, is also where Local 11-118 members gather for their union meetings.

On weekends, the taproom, and the adjacent outdoor beer garden, are packed with locals and tourists sampling Schell’s craft brews and soaking in the atmosphere, which includes peacocks, deer and other wildlife roaming the grounds.

One of Schell’s products, its Nordeast amber lager, has become so popular locally that local distributors once had two- to three-week waiting lists for customers. The company eventually ramped up production to catch up with the growing demand.     

Partners with USW

Marti said he was proud of the fact that the family-owned company has a strong partnership with its small USW work force, pointing out that negotiations for their most recent contract took 45 minutes, with only two proposals passing across the table between the two sides before they reached a tentative agreement.

“These are great people,” he said, gesturing toward USW members at work. “People come here with the idea that it’s a lifetime job.”

Many of the workers at Schell express a similar level of respect for their employers. Production worker and soon-to-be brewer David Widner said the good wages and benefits at Schell allowed him to buy a home, and his union contract provides him with a sense of security.

“I’ve always wanted to work for a company that’s morally sound,” said Widner. “There’s a lot of honor and pride in working here.”

District 11 Director Cathy Drummond said that USW members should be proud of their history at Schell as they look forward to continuing the tradition of brewing the highest quality products for the next generation.

Cathy Drummond at Schell

“Our union has a proud history of bargaining with employers to improve working conditions for members without compromising the viability of the company and sacrificing job security,” Drummond said. “August Schell is clearly committed to keep brewing and providing good, union jobs in New Ulm, and USW members are excited to be part of continuing the tradition.”

In addition to the pride they feel, the small, close-knit work force at Schell also genuinely seems to enjoy their jobs. 

As Slade, the local president, put it, “there’s a lot worse things you could be doing than making beer.”

Press Inquiries

Media Contacts

Communications Director:
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USW@WORK (USW magazine)
Editor R.J. Hufnagel

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Call USW Communications at 412-562-2442

Mailing Address

United Steelworkers
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