Employees at three Somerville coffee shops move to unionize

Three Somerville coffee shop employees took the first steps towards unionisation on Monday, joining a growing labour movement of cafe workers throughout the Greater Boston area.

In a letter sent to management Monday morning, an organising committee of 11 employees at Diesel Café, Bloc Café, and Forge Baking Company — all of which are managed by the same management team — requested voluntary recognition of their organising effort with the New England Joint Board UNITE HERE union. Employees want structural changes, including a wage-increase framework.

“We have worked tirelessly alongside you over the last year to keep our cafes afloat in the face of the pandemic’s seismic changes,” employees wrote in a letter to owners Tucker Lewis and Jennifer Park, as well as Chief Operating Officer Court Verhaalen. “Looking ahead, we urge you to recognise that unionisation is our company’s best option and greatest hope for achieving sustainability, establishing stability, and caring for and engaging our entire community.”

Management may voluntarily recognise the union or refer the matter to the National Labor Relations Board for a vote. Park did not indicate whether management would immediately recognise the union, but stated in an email to GBH News on Monday that owners are “doing our best to dive in and learn the process and terminology as quickly as possible” and are “committed to making our workplace the best it can be for our staff.” When asked about increasing transparency surrounding pay raises and promotions, Park responded, “We are 100 percent behind that!”

In June, employees at Pavement Coffeehouse, a local chain with locations throughout Greater Boston, successfully launched a flagship campaign to become the state’s first unionised cafe. Darwin’s, a four-location Cambridge cafe, followed suit in September.

“Seeing Pavement and Darwin’s happen made it seem possible that it could happen here,” said Will Lathrop, a 27-year-old Forge shift leader and floor manager. “We live in a city where unionisation is happening on a large scale, and I believe that this gradual accretion of worker power will occur. We reasoned that we should, you know, supplement with our small chip.”

The organising committee, which represents approximately 50 employees across three locations, hopes that forming a union will increase opportunities for employees to request sick time and time off, establish a structure for raises and promotions, and improve communication and respect between management and employees. Employees begin at the $13.50 hourly minimum wage, but there is no defined structure for raises or employee growth, according to Lathrop, who now earns $15 per hour after two years.

Read more • wgbh.org

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