Militant Journalism

Colectivo Coffee workers fight for a union

Photo: A customer orders their coffee “Yes Union” in support of Colectivo workers. Liberation photo

A vote by workers on unionization at Colectivo Coffee in Wisconsin and Illinois has resulted in a tie, although challenges to the vote are expected. The union drive ended March 31, and the vote as to whether to join IBEW Local 949 was counted on April 6. A Colectivo worker, who asked that their name be withheld, spoke to Liberation News about the initial tie vote and what it means for workers: “We are not done organizing. … It’s a step on the way to unionizing. We have done so much, we have inspired so many other workers to organize their work place and we have built so much solidarity among our workers.

From solidarity marches in Milwaukee in October 2020 to car caravans in Chicago this March, workers have been struggling around the demands for fair scheduling practices, wages, reviews, safety committees, a transparent grievance and harassment reporting process and more. 

Workers garnered community support for their union drive, including solidarity from other coffee workers around the country. Workers from Spot Coffee, Anchor Brewing, Wonderstate Coffee, Slow-Bloom Coffee and many more gave their solidarity through social media and fundraising for workers that were not rehired via a “Colectivan Relief Fund.” Additionally elected officials in Wisconsin and Illinois have had to face and give support to front-line essential workers struggling for a union. 

Robert Penner, a former Colectivo worker who was laid off due to the pandemic, spoke of the many health concerns: “Almost every health and safety concession that the workers at Colectivo received during the pandemic had to be struggled for and demanded with a collective voice. Colectivo was not just ill-prepared, which was something common to businesses across the United States. Instead, Colectvio actively denied the need for health and safety measures, including proper PPE, sufficient social distancing measures and paid time off for those exposed to Covid-19.”

Workers came together using email blasts, petitions, social media campaigns and direct action in the workplace to win these concessions. Through these efforts, Colectivo workers’ struggle intensified and Colectivo owners responded with hiring a union-busting law firm that held regular meetings against the union-drive.

Penner continued stating: “This is essentially why we decided to seek formal unionization through the IBEW. Because we realized our power and realized that we could make necessary changes within the company to make our workplace safe and, beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, struggle for more consistent scheduling and staffing, better wages for workers across the board, and an overall stronger communication structure that will allow the business to operate more efficiently and effectively. A union will not hurt Colectivo. It will make it much stronger.”

Making Colectivo stronger for workers is a sentiment that was also shared by many supporters who regularly ordered their coffee drinks with names like “IBEW Strong” and “Union Yes.” 

With many service industry workplaces voicing health concerns around Covid-19 and beyond, seeing many workers unite and struggle for better conditions around their schedules and wages has impacted many sectors of service workers. While Colectivo Coffee challenges votes, the workers continue to fight back.

Victory to Colectivo workers! 

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