Approximately 95% of the unionized workers at Milwaukee-based specialty coffee chain Colectivo Coffee voted in favor of their first union contract this week, according to local union organizers.
The agreement with Colectivo’s owners and management comes three years after Colectivo employees took the first steps towards unionization.
Union organizers are referring to the unionized worker group as the Colectivo Collective. The group is composed of Wisconsin workers in Milwaukee and Madison, who are represented by IBEW Local 494, and workers in Chicago, who are represented by IBEW Local 220.
“This contract ratification is the culmination of the efforts of hundreds of workers over the past three years,” Milwaukee-area Colectivo Coffee worker and organizing volunteer Hillary Laskonis said in an announcement from IBEW. “We could not have made it to this point without their bravery, the tireless work of the folks at the IBEW, as well as the vocal support of thousands of customers and members of the community.”
The collective bargaining phase followed a publicly contentious few years between pro-union organizers and the coffee chain. An initial union vote resulted in a 99-99 tie with numerous contested ballots. After the National Labor Relations Board reviewed contested ballots and determined a 106-99 vote in favor of unionization in 2021, Colectivo appealed the legality of the election. That appeal was rejected in March 2022.
In a statement shared with WDJT Milwaukee yesterday, Colectivo Coffee Roasters President Scott Isabella said, “Colectivo has always been committed to being an employer of choice. This ratified contract is an expression of that commitment. Colectivo looks forward to working with IBEW Locals 494 and 1220 to continue delivering a great employee and customer experience.”
Despite pro-union efforts that have swept the coffee industry over the past three years — notably including those affecting more than 300 individual Starbucks locations — the number of union contracts that have been successfully negotiated and ratified remains notably small.
Other recent ratified union contracts in the specialty coffee industry include those at Heine Brothers in Louisville, Kentucky, and at Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago. As of this writing, zero Starbucks locations.
In 2018, upstate New York-based Gimme! Coffee became the first specialty coffee chain to ratify a union contract. Unionized employees there ultimately determined to break from the union before forming a worker-owned cooperative.
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Nick Brown is the editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine.