Earlier this week, Colectivo Coffee employees voted to unionize, a move that will make them the largest unionized coffee brand in the U.S., according to reports.
Workers from the Wisconsin-based chain passed the vote to unionize 106-99. Colectivo Coffee’s union will comprise around 440 employees. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) will be the group's bargaining representative.
“Colectivo Coffee workers have worked diligently for the opportunity to have their voices heard," said Dean Warsh, business manager of IBEW Local 494, in a statement. "Now that the ballots have been counted, and once certified, IBEW Local 494 will begin moving forward with bargaining surveys and plans to assist them with their first negotiated contract.”
The vote passed after a year of conflict between organizers and management. In an April election, the decision was split with seven challenged votes remaining before the vote was ultimately passed this week.
Colectivo, which has 20 locations spread across Madison, Wisconsin, Chicago, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said it was disappointed by the result and that a majority of its employees did not want to unionize. The company said several votes were counted for people who had already announced they were leaving the organization. The brand estimates that fewer than 100 of the current 440 workers voted for the union.
“We don’t think those former coworkers should have been allowed to have a voice in unionization at an organization where they did not intend to work,” Colectivo stated in a letter. "The outcome is the result of a process that took place last spring and our employee census is dynamic."
Still, the company said it will “respect the rules and bargain in good faith.”
"We will not allow this to change the remarkable Colectivo experience for our customers," Colectivo continued. "We will remain intensely focused on our customers and the generous and responsible approach we’ve always taken as employers will remain unchanged. We’re committed to continuing to pay our workers at the top of the market and to actively supporting and engaging in our community."
Last year, the coffee chain was criticized by some employees who claimed individuals were fired in retaliation for voicing pro-union sentiments. In response, Colectivo told In the Times, “We and our and leadership team recognize the complexity of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and turned to professionals who specialize in the law to ensure the company and its co-workers are fully informed.”
Contract negotiations will likely begin after organizers finish surveying employee priorities in the coming weeks.
This unionization could mark a key shift in the restaurant industry. Historically restaurant and cafe workers have been left out of unionizing conversations. Previously, Buffalo-based Spot Coffee was the largest unionized cafe with around 130 members.
“We hope that the courage and hard work that Colectivo Coffee workers put into this victory inspires others in the hospitality/service industry to organize a union at their workplace,” Warsh said. "We are calling on Colectivo ownership to bargain in good faith with their employees once the election has been certified.”