Baristas and shift leaders at Intelligentsia Coffee‘s five Chicago coffee bars ratified their first contract with the company through union representative IBEW Local 1220.
It is the first high-profile ratified union contract to take effect in the specialty coffee industry since Gimme! Coffee employees signed a union-negotiated contract in 2018. Employees at Gimme, based in upstate New York, have since abandoned union representation in favor of a worker-owned cooperative model.
The new Intelligentsia agreement — which includes increased job protections, increased wages, paid training opportunities and more — took effect Jan. 1, following less than two months of negotiations.
In the coffee retail industry, where a wave of unionization efforts grew throughout the past year, the timeline of the Intelligentsia deal is particularly notable.
The ratification comes less than five months after certain employee types — baristas and shift leads, but not roastery workers or store managers — elected to unionize.
By contrast, none of the bargaining groups at the currently hundreds of unionized Starbucks stores has yet ratified a new labor contract, as both sides continue legal battles regarding failed or nonexistent negotiations. For example, National Labor Relations Board prosecutors recently accused Starbucks of illegally refusing to negotiate at 21 stores in Washington State and Oregon.
Other months-long unionizations among Intelligentsia’s peers in the specialty coffee realm — including at companies such as Colectivo Coffee (Milwaukee), Peace Coffee (Minneapolis) and Heine Brothers Coffee (Louisville, Kentucky) — have also not yet resulted in ratified contracts. It should be noted that those companies have not been accused by federal labor authorities of stalling negotiations, as Starbucks has.
In an announcement of the Intelligentsia ratification, IBEW Local 1220 said that the employer and the union — which represented a bargaining unit of 31 Intelligentsia employees — were able to exchange “meaningful proposals and counters” with one another.
Said IBEW Local 1220, “Both sides bargained in good faith and understood what the other needed to achieve across the table.”
A recent Chicago Sun-Times piece has more details on the contract terms.
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Nick Brown is the editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine.