Colectivo coffee shop baristas go union with IBEW
Workers at the Colectivo Coffee location on the square in Madison, Wis. | Amber Arnold / Wisconsin State Journal via AP

CHICAGO (PAI)—No, it’s not Starbucks—they may be next—but baristas at Colectivo gourmet coffee shops in Chicago, Madison, Wis., and Milwaukee voted 106-99 to unionize with Electrical Workers Local 494.

The vote was tied at 99-99, but the National Labor Relations Board official overseeing the balloting ordered seven challenged ballots opened and ruled all were valid. And all seven backed IBEW. The board announced the results on Aug. 23.

The vote makes the Colectivo workers the largest unionized group of coffee shop workers in the U.S.

“We are very proud of the workers at Colectivo Coffee,” Local 494 Business Manager Dean Warsh said in a release posted on Twitter. It was “a bold and necessary step towards ensuring every employee has fair treatment and dignity at their work…. They put their hearts and soul into this organizing effort and left nothing on the field.”

The local will start bargaining surveys among the workers and help them set goals and oversee selecting a bargaining committee.

Ordinarily, after workers vote to unionize, firms throw roadblocks and delays in the union’s way, attempting to outlast and discourage the workers and preventing a first contract. That may not happen this time, wrote Jon Levitan in Harvard’s OnLabor blog, which first reported the win.

“Colectivo management’s statement did call attention to a deep and legitimate flaw in the NLRB’s processes: The time it takes for workers to actually get their union,” Levitan wrote.

“Colectivo lamented that the IBEW’s certification ‘is the result of a process that took place last spring,’ and noted the cafe industry has high turnover—though management used a corporate euphemism for high turnover, writing ‘our employee census is dynamic.’

“The Colectivo workers submitted their representation petition on Feb. 3 and worked for another six months to finally achieve recognition. And this case, while not routine, did not even include the legal challenges that can draw out elections for years.”

Oh, about Starbucks… Warsh said he hopes the Colectivo win “inspires others in the hospitality/service industry to organize a union at their workplace!”

And on the same day, IBEW announced their win, a group of Starbucks workers in the Buffalo area formed an organizing committee. SB Workers United posted their letter to company CEO Kevin Johnson on their website and on Twitter.

The organizing committee appealed to the firm’s self-image as a progressive company and said respecting their right to organize “will help us help the company serve communities.”

“We see unions as the best way to make Starbucks a place to have a sustainable career and a true partnership,” they wrote Johnson. “We do not see our desire to organize as a reaction to specific policies but as a commitment to making Starbucks, Buffalo, and the world a better place.”

The organizers, who got an immediate cheer from Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson, also asked Starbucks to agree to eight fair election principles—such as balancing captive audience meetings with equal time for the union to reply.

The committee also asked Starbucks to agree to card-check voluntary recognition but said it would settle for an NLRB-run secret ballot election if Starbucks preferred that. The principles were posted, too.



Press Associates Union News Service provides national coverage of news affecting workers, including activism, politics, economics, legislation in Congress and actions by the White House, federal agencies and the courts that affect working people. Mark Gruenberg is Editor in chief and owner of Press Associates Union News Service, Washington, D.C.