Union backers rally to urge Colectivo to drop appeals, start contract talks

By: and - January 13, 2022 5:00 am
Stephanie Bloomingdale, President of State AFL-CIO (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Stephanie Bloomingdale, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, addresses a rally outside Colectivo’s outlet in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood in support of workers who voted for a union at the coffee chain. (Isiah Holmes | Wisconsin Examiner)

A band of pro-union employees of Colectivo Coffee and their supporters marched on the company’s Milwaukee headquarters Wednesday, demanding that management end its litigation seeking to overturn the 2021 union election at the coffeehouse chain.

Acting Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, who along with several other alders had endorsed the union organizing drive as it got underway in 2020, reiterated his support in his new role as the city’s chief executive as the group rallied outside the Colectivo location in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood, which also houses the business offices for the three-state chain

“We want to make sure that everybody has a chance to thrive in this community,” Johnson said. “And now I’m here with you guys today in my new capacity as mayor, continuing to push on.”

In August, a National Labor Relations Board official concluded that a final tally of eligible ballots cast in the late winter of 2021 showed that a majority of workers for Colectivo, which has outlets in Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago, had voted for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) to represent them. Since then, however, Colectivo’s owners have put off contract negotiations with a series of appeals.

In December, the director of the NLRB’s Minneapolis regional office, which includes Milwaukee, certified the union, setting the stage for talks to begin, but the owners filed another appeal, this time with the labor board itself in Washington, D.C.

To protest the delays Wednesday morning, employees who were part of the union organizing campaign took a petition that they said contained 2,200 signatures from supporters to the Riverwest outlet.

Pam Fendt
Pam Fendt, Milwaukee County Labor Council

“It is a very bad response from management that they still have not started the bargaining process,” said Milwaukee County Labor Council President Pam Fendt as the group rallied outside the shop. “Colectivo management has been filing appeals to the NLRB that have no merit. It is clear that they are only seeking to stall the certification process. Their employees have spoken, they want to continue to formally work together to collectively address conditions at work. It’s past time for management to come to the table.”

Speakers also included former and current Colectivo workers, some of whom alleged they were the subject of retaliation for union activism.

While the campaign that Colectivo mounted to oppose unionization is not unusual for non-union employers in the U.S. who are confronted with  organizing drives, the company’s stance drew widespread attention and criticism in light of the coffee chain’s cultivation of a progressive image from its founding, originally under the name of Alterra Coffee.

Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Stephanie Bloomingdale noted as much, directing her comments at Colectivo’s owners, Lincoln Fowler, Ward Fowler and Paul Miller, while speaking to the rally participants.

“We stood with your values, we stood with your fair trade policies on making sure that the workers in Central America had good working conditions, we stood with your environmental practices,” Bloomingdale said. “And this coffee shop was more than just coffee — it was an idea, with Alterra and now with Colectivo. But right now, Paul, Ward, Lincoln, you are betraying that brand. You are betraying that ideal.”

Calling Milwaukee “a union town,” Bloomingdale reiterated the call for the company to “fairly negotiate” with its employees and the union.

The rally culminated with the attempt by participants to present the petition to Colectivo’s owners or top management. Managers at the store said they were in a meeting and unavailable, and took the petitions to deliver to company officials.


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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.

Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets.