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NLRB rejects Colectivo appeal of union vote; company says it will negotiate

By: - March 25, 2022 1:52 pm
The Collectivo location on Humbolt in Milwaukee. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Colectivo Coffee’s store and management offices on Humbolt in Milwaukee. (Isiah Holmes | Wisconsin Examiner)

Updated

The National Labor Relations Board has rebuffed Colectivo Coffee’s management appeal to block employees from being represented by a union that won a majority vote at the company last year.

The board, in Washington, D.C., acted Thursday, issuing a one-sentence decision rejecting the Milwaukee-based company’s petition to review an earlier order that certified the union to represent the employees. The company’s appeal “raises no substantial issues warranting review,” the NLRB decision states.

The union election covered employees at all 15 of Colectivo’s outlets in Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison. It was one of the largest successful union drives in Wisconsin in at least a decade, and the largest involving an NLRB-supervisted election. The Colectivo union will represent as many as 400 or more workers in the coffee chain’s stores as well as in its production and shipping operation. 

A majority of employees whose votes were counted in the union election a year ago voted for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) to represent them after a group of Colectivo workers began organizing in 2020.

Employees who sought union representation said they were frustrated by concerns about equipment maintenance, scheduling and pay, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The owners and management of Colectivo Coffee have said numerous times publicly that once the process has run its course to exhaustion, they would bargain in good faith with their workers,” said Dean Warsh, business manager for IBEW Local 494 based in Milwaukee, in a statement the union issued Friday. “Well, that time is finally here and we look forward to the owners and management of Colectivo Coffee joining us and their workers at the bargaining table to begin negotiations on a fair, equitable and historic first contract.”

Colectivo’s management said Friday afternoon that the company has agreed to negotiate.

“We were notified yesterday that the National Labor Relations Board has declined to review issues raised about the union election. We have decided not to continue our legal appeal and will commence to prepare to bargain in good faith with the union,” the company said in a statement issued through its Milwaukee public relations firm, Mueller Communications. “We have been, and always will be, committed to the success of our co-workers and bringing an exceptional experience to our customers.”

The company had staunchly opposed the union drive, claiming unionization would harm the “culture” of the business. That opposition drew widespread attention, with critics inside as well as outside the labor movement calling it inconsistent with the company’s longstanding cultivation of a socially and politically progressive image.

The election, using mail ballots, was held over a three-week period in March 2021. The initial count in April was tied at 99 votes for and against the union, but with an additional 16 ballots that remained sealed because of challenges to the eligibility of the voters. Seven of those voters were ultimately ruled as eligible and their ballots were opened in late August; all seven elected the union, resulting in the 106-99 final tally.  

The union’s certification at Colectivo is believed to make the coffee chain the largest in the country with union representation.

Nationally, employees at Starbucks Coffee outlets around the country have been organizing, with pro-union votes prevailing in several elections that have been held so far. That campaign, unlike the one at Colectivo, has been conducted at individual stores rather than company-wide.

This story was updated 3/25/2022 at 2:55 p.m. with Colectivo’s response, and again 3/28/2022 at 11:30 a.m. to clarify that Colectivo was one of the largest union organizing drives in the last decade and the largest to involve an NLRB election.

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.

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