Modern Counsel first spoke with Lauren Mutti back in 2018, and frankly, it might as well have been a different century. The senior vice president and labor and employment counsel at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits is now in the (hopefully) post-pandemic environment.
While a study by University of Buffalo found that sales of spirits and wine increased (with beer sales declining overall) during the early months of the pandemic, as much as 20 to 40 percent in some states, it was hardly an easy time to be in the wine and spirits business. In 2020, more than 110,000 eating and drinking establishments shuttered their doors for good due to the economic impact of COVID-19. Restaurant and food service industry sales fell by $240 billion and over 2.5 million jobs were lost in the blink of an eye.
“When all of the bars and restaurants across the country close, that’s immediately impacting one of our primary revenue sources,” Mutti explains. “That meant having to make some incredibly hard decisions, but I think it also highlights a culture at SGWS that puts people first every step of the way.”
Mutti faced what had to be the most significant challenge in her six-year tenure with Southern Glazer’s. The world had essentially shut down; the company had to quickly establish ever-changing protocols for its essential workers to be in accordance with employment laws that were changing, sometimes, hourly.
“We really had to come together as an organization and put in some long hours,” the SVP says. “Our crisis team included our environmental health and safety group, our operations group, and a large cross-functional group that was all working to seek out the most relevant and up-to-date information it could to ensure the safety of our essential workers.”
For warehouse workers, truck drivers, and outside sales representatives, there simply wasn’t an alternative or work-from-home solution to be implemented. Mutti says her organization looked to exceed various ordinances and protocols in order to protect its people.
Mutti explains that while Southern Glazer’s prides itself on its family values, the pandemic was truly a “walk-it-don’t-talk-it” moment for any company claiming the same. Mutti says she witnessed an organization whose employees showed incredible loyalty, and which showed it back in return.
“This environment has forced us to evaluate how we measure and monitor productivity,” Mutti explains. “We’re trying to attract the best talent at a time when it’s never been harder. At the time of speaking, Mutti’s own growing team had recently gained new hires, ensuring that the labor and employment team could continue pushing ahead in an ever-changing environment.
That new landscape includes pay equity issues that Mutti believes will become a significant source of liability for employers. Additionally, with a presidential administration that is more favorable to union organizing, Mutti says her work in collective bargaining will play a more considerable role in her day-to-day responsibilities.
Outside of the office, Mutti is a busy mother of three, but she still finds time to give back. In February of 2022, the SVP was elected chair of the board of Lambda Legal, a national organization “committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights” of the LGTBQ+ community and those living with HIV through public policy, impact litigation, and educational initiatives. “Lambda is the oldest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization in the country and is one I’ve been a part of for a long time,” Mutti says. “I’m very excited to lead Lambda through its fiftieth anniversary.”
Both in her role at Southern Glazer’s and through her commitment to civil rights for all, Mutti has continued to demonstrate the impact that one person working to do the right thing can accomplish with the backing of an organization that believes in it as much as she does. It makes sense that her tenure at Southern Glazer’s continues, as she’s helping shape policy and ensure the safety of her people.