Pro-union workers at Colectivo Coffee, the Wisconsin-based roaster and cafe chain with five Chicago-area locations, have prevailed in a years-long organizing battle with management. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Friday issued its final decision, reiterating Colectivo employees properly elected the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local No. 494, thus becoming the largest unionized workforce at a U.S. coffee chain, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
This news may sound familiar: in August 2021, the NLRB allowed the inclusion of seven ballots challenged by Colectivo management after an April election, bringing a final vote tally to 106 in favor of unionization and 99 opposed. At the time, company leadership posted an open letter expressing disappointment with the result but promising to move forward and “bargain in good faith.”
In January, however, the company’s owners asked the NLRB to review the vote again, contending that ballots were improperly solicited during the election. Simultaneously, organizers claimed that Colectivo leadership was ignoring their meeting requests in an effort to stall contract negotiations. Ultimately, the board on Friday refused management’s request as the company’s filing “raises no substantial issues warranting review.” That decision means the time has come for the company to start negotiating a contract, Local 494 business manager Dean Warsh told the Journal Sentinel.
Colectivo’s union saga dates back to 2020, as the challenges of the pandemic prompted workers to call for enhanced safety protocols, formalized communication channels with management, and consistent scheduling. In short order, the chain’s co-founders and CEO hired Oklahoma-based “union avoidance” group Labor Relations Institute — described by critics as union busters — to hold mandatory meetings that workers say were designed to deter them from supporting unionization.
Despite management’s efforts to forestall organizing within their own company, Colectivo workers are now at the forefront of a profound shift in the coffee industry. In the months since Colectivo’s final vote was announced, Starbucks employees in Buffalo, New York, have successfully organized a handful of stores, and others have filed for union elections in Chicago and across the country.