Graham Kilmer

Colectivo Union Pushes ‘Reverse Boycott’

The union wants its supporters to patronize Colectivo in a special way this weekend.

By - Nov 25th, 2020 03:06 pm
Colectivo Coffee with walk-up windows in Riverwest. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Colectivo Coffee with walk-up windows in Riverwest. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The incipient union at Colectivo Coffee is trying a ‘more flies with honey’ approach to organizing this weekend.

It has called for a “reverse boycott” of Colectivo Coffee stores and products on “Small Business Saturday.” The goal is to telegraph to the owners that a union can be good for business.

Recently, Colectivo shut down two cafes, one in the Historic Third Ward, the other in Madison, citing diminished sales during the pandemic. 

The union organizers, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 494 (Milwaukee) and Local 1220 (Chicago) which are backing the unionization, are calling for support of both the unionization effort and the business. 

The reverse boycott asks people to patronize Colectivo Cafes, and to indicate their support for the unionization efforts by putting down “IBEWstrong” along with their name when they order coffee.

Hillary Laskonis, one of the Colectivo employees organizing the union, said they are emphasizing that they do not want the community to boycott Colectivo. “However, we know that some feel uncomfortable patronizing a company that they know has actively tried to deter their employees from organizing a union.”

Laskonis’ father is Charles Laskonis, the IBEW state organizing coordinator for Illinois.

The union is in the midst of a push for authorization cards. These cards are signed by employees to show they approve of the union acting as their bargaining representative.

Employers can voluntarily recognize a union if presented with authorization cards signed by a majority of their employees. Or, as Colectivo owners have indicated they will do, require the union to file for a National Labor Relations Board election.

In early October, approximately 30% of Colectivo employees had signed an authorization card, according to organizers. But organizers said they want a solid majority of cards signed before they call an election. “We’re definitely closer now,” Hillary Laskonis told Urban Milwaukee this week.

Given the pandemic, this push for authorization cards is largely playing out digitally. Union organizers have been releasing polished videos and GIFs on their social media channels encouraging their co-workers to turn in authorization cards.

The organizers have maintained that part of their interest in unionization is because of their general support and love for the company. But they want to be more involved in the decisions that affect their day-to-day work. 

“However, management at Colectivo still does not seem to understand where we’re coming from,” Laskonis said.

Colectivo owners have been clear that they oppose unionization. They have sent letters to employees expressing their opposition, and have hired consultants specializing in “union avoidance” to meet with employees.

Colectivo told Urban Milwaukee the union avoidance consultants were labor law experts. In an interview with Restaurant Business, a foodservice industry trade magazine, Scott Schwebel, vice president of brand, marketing and retail for Collective, said the consultants were hired to counter “the false-misleading promises the unions are allowed to peddle to gain support in this process.”

Schwebel also said “unions can be great, but usually for long-term positions (like the trades).” He went on to add “They do not, however, have any skills or merit offerings in a service & hospitality industry like our coffee business, and transient employment cafe jobs get little or nothing in return.”

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