‘Everybody needs to have a say’: Colectivo Coffee workers vote on unionization

One barista said the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the organization effort forward as workers advocated for safer policies.
Published: Mar. 30, 2021 at 7:33 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Workers at Colectivo Coffee shops in Wisconsin and Illinois are voting on whether to become part of a union. If the vote succeeds, Colectivo would become the largest unionized coffee chain the country.

The next step in the effort to unionize: workers cast their final votes Tuesday on whether they should be represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

“Everybody needs to have a say,” said Colectivo shift leader and barista Scott Brown. He added, “It is out of a love for our coworkers that we are organizing.”

Brown has been at Colectivo in Madison for more than a year. He said he supported the effort early on, but initially did not want to get too involved.

“Can I lose my job? Will this threaten my ability to climb in the company?” Brown described some of his fears.

Brown added the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the organizing effort forward.

“The people calling the shots are not the ones working through the hard times,” he said.

According to data from the National Labor Relations Board, since October 2020, Colectivo Coffee has had eight Unfair Labor Practice cases filed against them by the IBEW. Two cases are still open.

However, Brown said for him, it was not bad conditions that spurred the unionization effort. He explained he and his coworkers on the frontlines sometimes pushed back against company management over safety policies during the pandemic, like when they should open restrooms again.

“We realized I think our strength and how important its that we have a say and how much better things are when we get a say,” Brown said.

In a statement, Colectivo Coffee did acknowledge they “did not do everything perfectly - or even well” during the pandemic.

They also emphasized the company is not anti-union, but they say the IBEW in particular “will not solve the challenges of this company and will not make our co-workers Colectivo experience better.”

Brown, who attended several company meetings about the organization effort, said, “The company really is standing on, ‘Our culture would be ruined by the union.’”

Brown said moving forward, the IBEW would advocate for several things, including more regular schedules and raises.

“We are working to make Colectivo more collective,” Brown said, adding, “You can make your workplace better.”

If the vote to organize fails, workers would have to wait at least a year before trying again. If it succeeds, the union would start negotiating a contract with the company. Ballots will be counted in early April.

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