The wave of union activity sweeping across the specialty coffee industry nationwide continues to gather momentum, with two workers from two Northeastern companies seeking to unionize. Both Vibrant Coffee Roasters in Philadelphia and Coffee by Design in Portland, Maine have made public their intentions to seek union representation and are moving toward a vote, if necessary.
The first was Vibrant, who, per the Philadelphia Inquirer, announced on Monday that they had officially filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board. With a successful vote, Vibrant workers would be represented by the Philadelphia Joint Board, Workers United, known as Local 80, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. They would join workers from other Philadelphia area coffee companies like Elixr, Ultimo, ReAnimator, and Good Karma Cafe.
If successful, a total of 19 Vibrant employees—baristas, bakers, and porters—would join Local 80. Organizers cite the need for better working conditions, particular during the hotter summer months, as the reason for the collective bargaining efforts. Organizer and baker Rebecca Werez notes that the temperature in the bakery would regularly reach the mid-90s, which was the impetus for the union. Workers are also seeking “wage increases, more paid time off, and improvements to scheduling and job security.”
Per Werez, Vibrant ownership had initially stated they would voluntarily recognize the union but have since hired an employment lawyer, leaving the workers to seek a vote with the NLRB.
For their part, workers at Portland’s Coffee by Design hope for a much smoother process. According to the Portland Press Herald, CBD’s owner Mary Allen Lindemann states that she is open to negotiating a contract with workers. “Once Local 327 is certified as the bargaining agent, we are prepared to begin good-faith negotiations on a contract that protects our employees and the long-term viability of Coffee By Design.”
The plan to join the Laborers’ International Union of North America was announced Tuesday, with a total 89% of the CBD workforce signing cards authorizing Local 327 to represent them in collective bargaining. Around 20 baristas across the company’s three Portland locations would join the union.
Workers cite “low wages by industry standards, uneven hours that make benefits inconsistent, and an ad-hoc disciplinary system and working conditions that don’t meet best practice standards” as the reasons they are seeking union representation. If CBD and Lindemann don’t voluntarily recognize the union, the organizing workers will follow the lead of those at Vibrant and file for a vote with the NLRB.
Unionizing efforts at coffee shops around country don’t appear to be slowing down. If anything, they’re speeding up.