Graham Kilmer

Wonderstate Closing Doesn’t Affect Union

Cafe's employees will know by next week the results of their union election.

By - Dec 8th, 2020 04:54 pm
Wonderstate Coffee. Photo by Mariiana Tzotcheva.

Wonderstate Coffee. Photo by Mariiana Tzotcheva.

The Wonderstate Coffee cafe in the Historic Third Ward has been temporarily closed due to the pandemic, but workers there are in the middle of a union election.

Since summer, workers have been organizing the small shop at the cafe — less than 10 employees — into a union, with the backing of Teamsters Local 344. 

A National Labor Relations Board election began on November 26th, with results expected next week. The election will determine if the company must legally deal with the Teamsters local as the employees’ bargaining representative.

Wonderstate Coffee, formerly Kickapoo Coffee, is a coffee roaster based in Viroqua. The company has three cafes around the state, with a fourth coming to Madison.

The owners say the closing of the Third Ward cafe was due to the economic pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic. T.J. Semanchin, a founder of the coffee roaster, said “the closure of the Milwaukee Cafe is completely a result of the economic and health crisis.  Keeping the cafe open with drastically reduced sales just wasn’t financially viable through the winter months.”

It’s not the first coffee shop or cafe in the are to close during the pandemic. Colectivo, whose employees are also unionizing, closed its cafe in the Third Ward, 223 E. St Paul Ave. Stone Creek closed its cafe in Walker’s Point, 158 S. Barclay St., for good.

Semanchin said it was his understanding that the closing doesn’t have any impact on the unionization process. Molly Kiefer, an organizer at Wonderstate, concurred, telling Urban MIlwaukee the results of the election will still come on December 16th.

“We are not sure as to whether or not this was tied to the union,” Kiefer said, “but it seems like it was more rooted in the pandemic slowing business down to the point where it was unsustainable to remain open.”

Like a number of organizing efforts around the city, the workers at Wonderstate started seriously discussing unionization in the midst of the pandemic. Kiefer said she and another worker started talking about unionization in the summer. 

They wanted to negotiate with the owners for $15 an hour, a more equitable company culture, transparency and accountability — especially for promises relating to improvements in wages. Kiefer said they felt they needed the leverage that a union would provide to undertake this.

And having a union in place, Kiefer added, will benefit future employees of Wonderstate.

One thought on “Wonderstate Closing Doesn’t Affect Union”

  1. B says:

    I am glad to see the unionization efforts of different employees around the city, although it is concerning that many of these places have temporarily shut down some operations (Colectivo, Milwaukee Art Museum).

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