Beerland: Unpaid Staff Strikes
Deep in the Heart of Our Community
By Jay Armstrong
“Richard has never been a good communicator with his employees. A lack of transparency and honesty with his staff is what lead to this. He was approached several times by different employees that he needed to be honest and tell everyone what was going on because the staff were getting anxious and uneasy. He refused to give us any information, even when we directly asked. Even up to the last twenty-four hours before the strike he refused us any explanation. He was asked to have an in person meeting with staff to discuss the strike, remediation ideas and how to resolve this and move forward but refused. The next morning we were all informed in the same way as everyone else via Richard’s press release that the venue had been sold. We had no prior information about this and even today he won’t tell anyone who the new owner is.” – Anonymous
Since Beerland opened in 2001, founders Donya and Randall Stockton created, cultivated, and sustained the sense of all-in-it-togetherness community often spoken of as cornerstones for what made the artist driven ethos of Austin tangibly real which has all but diminished in the dust of demolished staples found in the drying concrete sidewalks in front of atrocious soulless condos sprawling their cancerous tentacles around what little is left to be loved in this city. When the two announced plans to step away from the venue at the end of 2017, feelings of heartbreak poured all over the internet as concerns for Austin in what having one of the last remaining vestiges of substance no longer existing would mean personally for those who had found so much of themselves defined within its walls over the years. You don’t have to search very far through the articles here on Anon to understand Beerland’s place in relation to our existence; you would be hard pressed to find a publication around town the same could not be said for.
When it was revealed Richard Lynn would be taking over the bar, a hesitant sense of relief settled in as he announced he would keep with the ethos of Beerland by maintaining current staff with ambitions of strengthening the venue; change was not his goal, he would attempt only to make it better. Lynn having built his reputation around creating Super Secret Records seemed the thirteenth hour savior everyone had been holding their breath for. Unfortunately, that is not how things have panned out.
In a collective statement via Facebook the staff shocked the community this week when they let it be known how they had been going without pay since March. Requesting to remain anonymous, we have been contacted by a few current staff members who were willing to shed light on details to give us a clearer picture of how things developed.
What we have learned is that pay issues began happening during SXSW. Without any communication as for why or when the issues would be resolved, the staff has continued working for Beerland in the time since unaware of how vast the problem had become. The staff reached the point where they no longer could allow their loyalty toward sustaining a venue they love and feel personally defined by to overshadow their inability to feed themselves or keep skirting bills. It was only once the staff got together to discuss the issues and they wrote down how much each was owed by the venue did the depth of the situation become apparent.
Without contacting any of the striking employees, Beerland on Facebook–we assume via Lynn– announced they would still be staffed and shows would go on as scheduled; the scathing response comments came in immediately with unapologetic attacks on the venue for trying to go forward–not addressing the pay issue head on would not be acceptable being the consensus. Less than twenty four hours later Lynn announced he had sold the venue to an unnamed entity. The whole spectacle for us on the outside gives us a clear example of how honest the criticism of Lynn as a business leader unwilling to look employees in the eye as he continuously takes advantage of their best intentions seem to be.
The Chronicle profiled Lynn back in 2017, in it a quote can be found which now seems unfortunately apocryphally prophetic for Beerland and its staff, “that’s what happens in my life,” he says emphatically, “I’ll think I know the path I’m going down, but for one reason or another I’ll take a sharp turn, on a moment’s notice. I guess I like the chaos and the thrill of it. Where you just go blind into something, full speed, as fast as you can go.” A philosophy respectable until sixteen thousand dollars of unpaid wages are part of the equation. What a mess Lynn has created and refuses to take responsibility for.
In the staff statement they requested that all bands and customers refrain from using the venue until the pay issues are resolved. We certainly can be curmudgeons about the shifting face of Austin but when something happens to our community it does not take long for this city to warmly remind us why our love for this place is rooted deeply. There is now a Gofundme which has raised eight thousand dollars at time of publication–we certainly hope you will donate to it as well. There will be a benefit show on Thursday June 6th at Empire Control Room & Garage (doors at 5pm). Bookers around town have opened their lineups to make room for all bands so they can play their scheduled dates without crossing picket lines. There still is much distance yet to be covered to right this wrong done to our sisters and brothers but as Lynn seemingly refuses to conduct himself with any semblance of what a decent human being would to correct this situation, Austin as a collective of struggling artists are doing what they always do despite all odds; taking care of each other.
What does this mean for the future of Beerland? It takes little imagination to assume Donya and Randall are torn completely to hear of this treatment to those they love as family. All staff members who contacted Anon mentioned at length how terribly the news will affect the two who had formed Beerland with the staff in mind and left it with such apprehensive fear in belief that without remaining at the helm these lost sheep who found safety in their arms would be left to fend for themselves in a world where such noble intentions are far from common. Unfortunately it seems their fears were formed through unfortunate truths. Can we see a future where Beerland as an idea can recover from this? I argue with the correct leadership it could. If anything the coming together around this news in helping those affected out speaks to the realness of the idea these unpaid employees have held on to even as their checks were bouncing and Lynn’s communication became non-existent.
Whatever happens, however things go forward, we can only hope these employees get paid what they are due with interest and whether Beerland remains or not we can at least see this chapter coming to an end with the warm belief that despite the worst our community came together once more to protect what defines our love which is not an address or a fading painted wall in a claustrophobic space, no our love has never had an address attached to it, our love is about each other and despite every cheap shot thrown our way we continue to pick each other up to carry our collective dreams safely through it all.