Colectivo Owners Oppose Union
Popular coffee company's owners sent a letter to employees discouraging unionization.
After workers went public with plans to organize a union at Colectivo Coffee, the company’s owners sent a letter to employees urging them not to join a union.
The letter was signed by Colectivo’s three owners, Lincoln Fowler, Ward Fowler and Paul Miller. The letter, as the owners wrote, was intended to “share with you why we strongly oppose the unionization efforts.”
The owners argue that a union will be bad for the culture of the company and act as an impediment to communication. They also argue that it will be bad for individual employees, saying the union will cost them money and can’t actually guarantee anything.
Colectivo workers are organizing with the help of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 494. When Urban Milwaukee first learned of the company letter, Dean Warsh, business manager for IBEW 494, described it as “a typical letter that employers send out to employees when they are looking to organize a Union. Plenty of examples on the internet.”
Mackenzie Arndt, a Colectivo employee and organizer, said the language in the letter was boiler-plate “anti-union rhetoric.” The letter, she said, was “a fear mongering tactic.”
In their letter, the owners said a union would “fundamentally change our Culture” by “adding a third party.” They said, “Camaraderie and respect would be replaced by workplace rules” snd a union would “change and undermine what’s most special about Colectivo — our close and collaborative relationship with our co-workers.”
Arndt disagrees. She said the entire impetus for organizing a union is to give workers the leverage to better communicate with upper management. The situation on the ground in Colectivo Cafes and warehouses, Arndt said, is not very well understood by the upper management.
Saying the company culture of camaraderie and communication would be changed by a union “is just a way to shut down us having a voice, which we don’t really have right now,” Arndt said. In an email, Warsh told Urban Milwaukee that unions are not a third party, but are made of the same workers that are in the cafes today.“I don’t understand how guaranteeing safety, hours of work, pay, and such depletes camaraderie and respect,” he added.
The owners also argued that workers would not be able to speak for themselves. “The election of a union would require leadership to deal with the union, rather than each of you directly, in all matters involving wages, hours of work and working conditions. In a union setting you lose your voice — instead the union speaks for you.”
Unionization would not rob workers of their voice, Arndt said. Quite the opposite, she said, companies that don’t like unionization “feel threatened when employees are sticking up for themselves.”
“The employees ARE the union,” Warsh said in an email. “They decide what issues are the most important to them and negotiate their agreement with the assistance of an experienced IBEW negotiator.” He also noted that dues go to much more than organizer salaries — which are voted on by members — and may pay for pension benefits, sick and death benefits, membership training and education, membership outings and charitable donations.
In their letter, the owners said Colectivo is a “progressive organization” and noted that they have donated to the Unity Campaign and participate in NAACP partnership actions. Arndt agreed that it is a generally progressive company and noted that the union would be in that tradition of progressivism.
Urban Milwaukee made attempts to seek comment from Colectivo owners and has not heard back.
A full copy of the letter is available on Urban Milwaukee.
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- IBEW Local 494 Statement on Colectivo’s Union-Busting Meetings - International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 494 - Feb 17th, 2021
- Colectivo Workers Petition for Union Election - Graham Kilmer - Feb 16th, 2021
- Colectivo Closes Prospect Avenue Cafe - Graham Kilmer - Jan 18th, 2021
- Murphy’s Law: Local Unions Confront The Wealthy - Bruce Murphy - Nov 30th, 2020
- Colectivo Union Pushes ‘Reverse Boycott’ - Graham Kilmer - Nov 25th, 2020
- Did Colectivo Hire Union Busters? - Graham Kilmer - Oct 8th, 2020
- Mayor Tom Barrett released the following statement on workers organizing at Colectivo: - Mayor Tom Barrett - Oct 2nd, 2020
- County Supervisors Express Support for Colectivo Workers Union - Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors - Sep 25th, 2020
- We have your back, Colectivo workers - Milwaukee Common Council - Sep 22nd, 2020
- Colectivo workers deserve a platform to have their voices heard - Ald. Khalif Rainey - Sep 21st, 2020
Read more about Union Effort at Colectivo here