Workers of Darwin’s Ltd., a Cambridge cafe with four locations, form a union. On Wednesday September 15, the Darwin’s United Organizing Committee sent a letter to management informing them of their intention to form a union. In the letter, the organizing committee asked management to voluntarily recognize the union by a card control procedure and participate in good faith contract negotiations. A majority of Darwin’s 40 or so workers have already signed union cards, signaling their support for the organizing effort.
“A partnership between us will strengthen the business while better supporting the staff – because it is through collaboration, not proclamation, that we excel,” the letter said. The organizing committee also wrote that the café’s image of itself – that of community-based and consciously sourced products, according to the letter – should “align with supporting the founding of the business.” : the workers “.
Steven Darwin, the owner of the cafe, told Eater that “Darwin’s Ltd. appreciates the many contributions of its employees. We respect their right to consider union representation. We look forward to engaging with all of our employees on this topic. Darwin did not indicate whether management intended to recognize the union on a voluntary basis.
Annina Kennedy-Yoon works as Darwin’s barista and is part of the organizing committee. She tells Eater that Darwin’s workers have decided to organize because they recognize that they have the right to negotiate for better working conditions. “The best working relationships are those where workers have a say in how things are run. We don’t have specific requirements, we just want to have a say and feel included in our relationships with our employers.
Kennedy-Yoon expressed a number of frustrations with the industry, particularly with the way workers were treated by the general public throughout the pandemic. “It’s surprising how some people don’t treat service workers with respect, or like humans at all,” she said. “I ended up in a bad place where I felt the people I served didn’t respect my job. I came every day, preparing food, making coffee, so that they could live a normal life, or almost. ”
Eleanor McCartney, who works as a shift supervisor at Darwin’s and is a member of the organizing committee, says the pandemic was a major factor in the decision to unionize. “A lot of the problems in the industry have been exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic,” she said. “This job has been made more difficult, more frustrating and more exhausting by COVID. We seek to stay together and have the ability to go to work and not feel exhausted for a single day or when we have to go to work for five consecutive days.
Members of the Darwin Organizing Committee, which is represented by the New England Joint Commission Unite Here union, tell Eater they found inspiration in the recent hit organizational effort at the Pavement Coffeehouse in Boston and the ongoing organizational efforts at Starbucks in Buffalo. Mary Lulloff works as a barista at Darwin’s and is a member of the organizing committee; she previously worked at Pavement. She left around the same time the Pavement Coffee organizing committee went public with their organizing efforts and said she knew she wanted to help do a similar thing at Darwin’s when she was hired. . Lulloff hopes that Darwin’s leadership will follow Pavement’s lead and willingly recognize the union.
Emma Delaney, a union representative on the Darwin’s organizing committee that works with Unite Here, told Eater that Pavement and Starbucks’ organizing efforts have enabled Darwin’s workers to join the industry labor movement. Coffee. “These are not random organizing efforts independent of each other. It is a movement. Darwin’s is fighting to become the second independent unionized coffee shop in Massachusetts, and all of us at the New England Joint Board Unite Here are proud to represent them in their fundamental right to organize as workers.
“It’s been inspiring,” says Kennedy-Yoon, “to have these frustrations, then to see a café happening right in front of me, in my own neighborhood, and to think about what can actively be changed. [about this industry]. ”
If management does not voluntarily recognize the union, Darwin’s organizing committee will have to file a request with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which would then proceed to a vote among the workers. (When management does not voluntarily recognize a union, it may bet that it can carry out an effective anti-union campaign, which is what happened recently at an Amazon facility in Alabama.)
Inequity and abuse are rampant in the restaurant industry, and non-union workers – who make up the vast majority of the industry’s workforce – have little or no recourse. For many food service workers, financial insecurity is the norm: most companies in the industry do not offer health insurance; tip credit, which allows operators to pay waiters and bartenders less than the minimum wage as long as they make up the difference in tips (who have a heritage in slavery), is alive and well in Massachusetts; and undocumented workers, who make up a large part of the industry, are not eligible for unemployment benefits. If more food service workers were unionized, fewer food service workers would suffer under such difficult and often inhuman working conditions.
Workers in the restaurant industry have one of the lowest union representation rates in the nation. The median weekly earnings of unionized food service workers are about $ 90 more per week than non-unionized workers at the national level. That’s a difference of at least $ 4,600 a year, which can make the difference between paying rent or not.
Like the actions of Pavement workers before them, the actions of Darwin workers could be a guide for others to follow as food service workers continue to recognize their collective bargaining power.