For workers organizing a union at Colectivo Coffee Roasters, the past five months have been a grueling waiting exercise.
“I’m sitting here twiddling my thumbs, I’m so nervous, ”Lauretta Archibald, a former Colectivo baker and union activist, wrote to me at the beginning of April. That day, she and other union supporters expected to hear the results of a union election that had been in preparation for a year. They would wait a lot longer. Although a majority of the ballots were counted in April 6, the result was a tie (99-To-99) with seven unopened contested ballots.
On Monday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) counted the remaining ballots and, by a margin of seven votes, the workers won union representation with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) 494. The result will make Colectivo the largest unionized coffee chain in the country.
Like many restaurants and cafes, Colectivo, which operates stores in Illinois and Wisconsin, has overseen widespread holidays and layoffs amid the pandemic. Workers allege the channel also failed to respond adequately to a Covid-19 last year, and say they are subject to an unpredictable schedule. During the union campaign, the company contracted with the Labor Relations Institute (LRI), a leading anti-union consultancy, to organize ““Captive audience” and disseminate anti-union messages throughout the workforce.
Similar to the rest of the restaurant industry, in which only 1.2 percent of workers are represented by a union, the coffee industry is largely unorganized. And although cafe workers have expressed interest in unions and launched numerous campaigns to organize, successes are rare and hard-won. Rather than negotiating with a union, cafe owners can choose to shut down their shop entirely – in Providence, RI and Redlands, Calif., Baristas and roasters converted their cafes into worker co-ops after management, confronted to organizational attempts, has closed its doors. .
This makes the victory at Colectivo all the more unusual. A representative of the IBEW said that around 400 the workers will be represented by the union.
Even when owners choose to keep their doors open, they often deploy a range of anti-union strategies – legal and illegal – to deter attempts to organize. According to a 2019 Study by the Institute for Economic Policy, in addition to 40 Percent of union campaigns in all industries in the United States, employers are accused of violating the legal rights of workers. In 90 percentage of union campaigns, employers hold anti-union meetings and rallies designed to dissuade workers from unionizing.
To address this issue, Democrats in Congress introduced the Right to Organize Protection Act (PRO), which seeks to mitigate some of these anti-union tactics. Among other provisions, the PRO Act would ban meetings with captive audiences and impose stricter penalties against employers who retaliate against workers during union campaigns. The bill has stalled in the Senate, facing resistance from the GOP and some moderate Democrats, although congressional leaders have incorporated similar penalties for labor violations into their budget resolution, pending approval of the parliamentarian of the Senate.
At Colectivo, the owners fought a protracted battle over the validity of the seven deciding ballots, effectively extending the anti-union campaign for months after the election.
“This is yet another anti-union tactic – to delay the delay. And just like every other tactic they’ve thrown at us, we’ll be successful on the other side of it too, ”the union wrote in a May statement. 24 post on Instagram.
Even in the defeat, the cafe owners maintained their stance against the union, writing in a Facebook post that “[w]We are disappointed with this result because a majority of our colleagues did not vote in favor of organizing and because the NLRB counted the votes of several people who announced their resignations before the elections closed.
For nearly six months between the election and the final count of the ballots, the Colectivo workers’ union continued to organize itself internally, organizing social events, mental health workshops and participating in a panel on organization in the coffee industry. Now that they’ve won, they will proceed to negotiate their first contract with the company which, despite protests over the vote, said it “follow the rules and negotiate in good faith.
In its statement, the union recognized the historic nature of the election and added that they hoped to retain the position of the Union’s largest coffee chain “for a short time only. Already working to claim the title, a new public coalition of Starbucks workers in Buffalo, New York, has declared their intention to unionize, announce their campaign via a press release with the names of almost 50 attached members of the organizing committee.
In a statement from the local IBEW 494, the Colectivo union has an optimistic view of future unionization in the industry, writing: “We hope that the courage and hard work that the workers at Colectivo Coffee put into this victory will inspire others in the hospitality and service industry to organize a union in their workplace.