Workers at three Seven Stars Bakery locations in Providence, Rhode Island publicly announced their intent to unionize with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 328 on June 10 after they issued a letter to ownership seeking voluntary recognition.
Workers began organizing six months ago when one of the longest serving employees was turned down for a raise, despite years of stellar performance. In response, a group of workers across several locations began talking about how they could improve conditions together.
The key issues: wages and job security
The first thing the workers at Seven Stars Bakery want people to know about their union drive is that they love their coworkers, they love their jobs and they want their union to help make them even better. Crafting artisan breads, croissants, sandwiches and lattes every day for local customers in an environment where workers can be themselves is not just a short term gig for many, but what they would like to be a career.
Worker organizers who spoke with Liberation News highlighted two widely felt issues: stagnant wages and lack of job security. Employees who get perfect yearly performance reviews are routinely denied raises. These stagnant wages are especially tough on workers during this current period of inflation, as the price of food, gas and rent soars across the country.
A supervisor at one of the unionizing stores who asked to remain anonymous told Liberation News that working for Seven Stars has been a great experience, especially because of their coworkers, “but people simply aren’t getting paid enough.”
Another concern is anxiety about job security. Since U.S. labor law is based on at-will employment, workers without unions can be fired by management for just about any reason. The protection provided by a union contract from being fired without just cause will make it easier for Seven Stars employees to speak their minds about ways things could be improved at work.
In addition to annual raises, workers want to be paid for the time they are required to be available when scheduled for an “on-call” shift. Currently at Seven Stars, there are rotating shifts where workers are required to be available from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., during which time they may be called in — but they are not paid until they arrive at the job site.
Another worker organizer told Liberation News, “They really want you to care here. They talk about all their longstanding employees, of which there are very few left. That is because annual wage increases have stopped. We’re going to change that.”
‘We’re doing this out of love for each other and our jobs’
Over the last two months enthusiasm and support for the union at Seven Stars grew to over 80% of the workforce. Union organizers decided to start with the three Seven Stars locations in Providence, but hope to expand to all five stores in the small chain, including locations in Rumford and Cranston.
Jordan, another worker at the West Side location who asked to be identified by first name only, told Liberation News, “In all my interactions with coworkers, I have not heard anyone express any reaction other than excitement. People hearing about the other organizing going on — talking to people about what happened at Amazon, the unionization at Starbucks across the country — has been really energizing.”
While the workers of Seven Stars have requested voluntary recognition of their union from the owners, they are prepared to go through the process of a National Labor Relations Board election if the owners refuse to recognize.
For other workers who want to unionize their workplace but don’t know where to start, the supervisor who spoke to Liberation News said:
“You can do it. Find a union representative near you, reach out to them. They will help you free of charge. They will invest in you to help you get to this point. To anyone who’s thinking about it, simply reach out, because they will take so much of the stress of forming a union off your shoulders. It got the ball rolling faster than we could have ever thought.”
We’re doing this out of love for each other and our jobs. If we hated Seven Stars, we would not be working there. We love each other. I’ve never worked for a company where I care so much about my coworkers and I feel so much like we’re comrades and we’re in this together. It’s that feeling of togetherness that we want even more so emphasized by the union. We’re already in this together, and we deserve to actually be protected if we’re in it together.”