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Pavement Coffeehouse could become Massachusetts’ first unionized coffee shop

The workers at Pavement Coffeehouse, a Boston-area chain that operates eight cafes and a coffee roastery, are form a union. On Tuesday June 1st, the Street Coffee Organizing Committee sent a letter To the owner of Pavement Coffee Roasters, Larry Margulies, for informing him of your intention to form a union and asking him to voluntarily recognize the union, avoid anti-union activity and participate in trustworthy contract negotiations.

In one statement Margulies told GBH News that Pavement “has no intention of working to discourage our staff from organizing. If they can provide us with an established union, we will work with them from there. ”

Mitchell Fallon, a union representative on the Pavement Organizing Committee who works with the New England Joint Board UNITE HERE, told Eater that Pavement workers were delighted to see Margulies’ statement. Fallon said the organizing committee invited management to a meeting for Tuesday, but management was unable to attend. A second invitation was issued and Pavement’s lawyers contacted the organizing committee on Wednesday morning. „We look forward to a broader discussion about the next steps,” said Fallon. „Nothing has been resolved yet, but we expect a healthy conversation.”

Eater received a copy of a letter Margulies sent to the road workers on Wednesday in which the cafe owner wrote: „I want you to know that I can hear you and that I am with you” and that he and the rest of the management team „are” committed to supporting your desire to union. ”Later in the letter, Margulies stated that he was once a college grad who worked in an Allston bagel shop and had firsthand knowledge of how hard his employees work and” which ones. ” Needs „he has [they] have to meet me [their] Life. „(This bagel shop later became Pavement’s first location.)

„So we’ll work on it together,” Margulies continued. „Although we are new to the unionizing process and of course there will be a lot of news in the coming days, I believe that together we will make Pavement Coffeehouse a better and fairer place to work.”

By Wednesday, Pavement’s management had agreed to recognize the union, according to GBH News.

The organizing efforts of Pavement Coffeehouse workers are momentous and their union would be the first of its kind in the state. If successful, the Pavement Coffee Organizing Committee’s union initiative could inspire workers in other cafes, restaurants and bars to follow suit. It wouldn’t be an easy task for them an industry where work organization is notoriously difficult. In fact, Fallon said the organizing committee has heard from a number of other coffee shop workers in the greater Boston area who want to learn how to organize their own workplaces since going public.

Prominent progressive lawmakers in the state have already spoken out in favor of the Organizing Committee’s efforts for Pavement Coffee.

„Pavement Coffee workers deserve better wages, comprehensive benefits and a say in the workplace,” said Boston city council member and mayoral candidate Michelle Wu in a statement Tuesday. “I support their efforts to form a union and I hope that Pavement Coffee will voluntarily recognize these workers if a majority votes in favor of organizing. Café workers work long, hard hours in the service of the public and are vital to the fabric of our city. To the road workers who stand up and speak out, I’ll be with you today and every day until you get the union you deserve! „

Senator Ed Markey tweeted his support, writes: “I stand by the workers at Pavement Coffee and congratulate them on starting their union. I encourage @PlasterKaffee the management to recognize the union voluntarily and not to interfere with the right of its workers to organize. „

A Pavement employee told GBH News that she expected the majority of the coffee chain’s 80 or so employees to sign union cards. A source with knowledge of the union movement told Eater that the number is already at 60, which represents the majority of Pavement’s workers. A representative from Pavement told GBH News that the company „will agree to a card check by a neutral arbitrator and abide by the result” and „if the card check shows the union’s support from the employees, we will recognize the union as a collective bargaining agent. ”

The Pavement Coffee Organizing Committee, represented by UNITE HERE in the New England Joint Board, calls for a salary review for every position in the company and an increase in the base salary for every employee. Pavement currently makes $ 13.50 an hour, the minimum wage in Massachusetts.

The organizing committee will also negotiate paid mental health days and a more flexible break schedule – both crucial workplace conditions during the best of times, but especially during an ongoing pandemic – as well as financial and operational transparency.

As the management of Pavement plans to recognize the union, the organizing committee does not need to apply to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to form a union. If the opposite were the case – the traffic control refused to voluntarily recognize the union – the organizing committee would have to petition the NLRB, which would then hold a vote. (When management often does not voluntarily recognize a union, they rely on it to have an effective anti-union campaign to discourage workers from voting for a union. A current high-profile example of this recently played at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama.)

If the workers at Pavement Coffeehouse can successfully negotiate a union agreement, they will be in a very small minority among the hospitality workers in the United States. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Food and drink workers have the lowest union proportions in the country and are the least likely to be union members. Trade union workers in the hospitality industry earn a national average of $ 110 more per week than non-union workers. That’s a difference of at least $ 440 a month or $ 5,720 a year.

As it stands, the food industry is rife with inequality and abuse (see for example: this, this, this, and this) and non-union workers have little or no remedies. The arbitrary nature of hospitality employment (and most employment in the US) makes it extremely risky for workers to push for change. Strikes – an important step in improving working conditions – can lead to concessions, but also to job losses and financial insecurity for workers who can easily be fired and replaced by employers.

The industry is already baking financial uncertainty into its model: Most cafes, restaurants and bars do not offer health insurance; the tip credit, which enables operators to pay certain workers a subliminal wage as long as they pay for the rest in the form of tips (who have a legacy in slavery), is still on the books in Massachusetts; and undocumented workers who make up a large part of the catering industry are not entitled to unemployment insurance benefits. As a result, for many workers, a loss of income could mean the difference between renting and not renting.

As workers’ bodies like One Fair Wage push laws to abolish undermine wages in Massachusetts and beyond and the PRO Act gains momentum, it would Removing many barriers for workers wishing to unionize In their jobs, there are indications at legislative level that conditions may improve in the not-too-distant future. But Pavement workers are not waiting for politics to improve their conditions. You act on your own. And their actions could prove to be a guide for future trade union initiatives in the hospitality industry.

Update, June 3, 8 a.m .: This post has been updated to reflect the fact that Pavement management plans to recognize the Pavement Coffee Organizing Committee union.