On Wednesday, May 31st, 22 non-management employees at Gimme! Coffee—a New York specialty coffee roaster and cafe brand founded in 2000—officially voted to unionize. This marks the first labor union to ever be formed at an American third wave coffee company.*
The union will begin negotiating a new contract and covers employees of all of Gimme! Coffee’s locations in Ithaca, New York, who are now members of the Workers United Local 2833, as per the Tompkins County Workers Center. As of this time it is not clear if there are plans to expand to cover employees of the three retail locations in New York City.
The unionization effort was led by Samantha Mason, with help from Workers United-Rochester Regional Joint Board. The primary concerns of the workers were reported to be making a living wage without depending on tips and better transparency within company operations. Here's a transcript of the intent to unionize letter sent to Gimme! Coffee's owner Kevin Cuddeback, shared with permission:
For many of us, Gimme! is more than a job. It is a community where a cup of coffee becomes more, and we thank you for that. We thank you for making Gimme! a home, and it is because of our love for Gimme! that we want to do everything we can to improve it.
In this time of progressive revival, we, the Members of the Gimme! Coffee Workers United Organizing Committee, are embarking on a grassroots unionization of Ithaca’s restaurant/beverage community. Inspired by your leadership and commitment to social justice, we believe that Gimme! has the potential to reimagine and revolutionize the concept of a “union” and can serve as a progressive business model not only in Ithaca but in the region and possibly the nation. This new model seeks to increase the success of the enterprise while at the same time offering employees an independent voice.
We trust in your vision of Gimme! as an ambitious specialty coffee shop in all respects, and that is why we believe Gimme! can create a new holistic approach to managing restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. Our goal is for Gimme! to be the first to create a unionized sector where the employee/employer relationship can be collaborative, improve the lives of both the employee and employer and be in solidarity with the working class generally. We understand that forming a union can seem like an attack, but we assure you that we see the union as a tool to sculpt a modern employee/employer relationship that befits a new era of social progress. This is not an ultimatum, but an invitation to a progressive partnership. We believe this course is the best way not only for employees but for the future growth of the company. Again, we want to collaborate, not fight, and we hope you consider Gimme!’s revolutionary potential.
The ownership at Gimme! was reportedly not resistant to the process, with CEO Kevin Cuddeback taking a neutral stance. “My decision to remain neutral was largely influenced by this statement,” Cuddeback tells Sprudge. “If Gimme Coffee can be a pioneer with respect to power sharing, I think that's a win. If we can become more effective at learning and responding to what frustrates and motivates baristas, they'll be happier at work (…which customers love).”
While the baristas at Gimme! Coffee look to expand this effort to encompass other local food and beverage workers in Tompkins County, it’ll be interesting to see how this might affect the specialty coffee industry at large. In the growing effort to secure a living wage for coffee professionals and a larger sense of involvement at the barista level, unionization provides one avenue towards both. The coffee world will be watching these developments at Gimme! Coffee closely.
Top photo via The Cornell Daily Sun.
*If you know of other American third wave coffee companies with unionized workers, please get in touch.