Graham Kilmer

Colectivo Closes Prospect Avenue Cafe

Union organizers say workers are 'devastated' by closure and layoffs.

By - Jan 18th, 2021 06:52 pm
Colectivo Coffee, 2211 N. Prospect Ave. Photo taken June 3rd, 2015 by Michael Horne.

Colectivo Coffee, 2211 N. Prospect Ave. Photo taken June 3rd, 2015 by Michael Horne.

Colectivo Coffee has closed another cafe as the COVID-19 pandemic and the public health interventions meant to slow the virus’ spread have made business difficult.

The closure of the cafe at 2211 N. Prospect Ave. is temporary, the company said in a statement. In the current environment, the cafe was no longer “viable.”

This is the fifth Colectivo cafe or bakery to close since the start of the pandemic in March. Two cafes, one in the U.S. Bank Center and another in Bayshore Town Center, never reopened after the initial shutdown in late March. Meanwhile, the company has closed its cafe in the Historic Third Ward and in Capitol Square in Madison. The company also shut down its plans for a Troubadour Bakery in Chicago.

The company said it is “saddened for our co-workers and the community this cafe serves,” regarding the latest closure of the East Side cafe. “We are doing our best to balance the impact of COVID with operating safely and respectfully and trying to preserve as many jobs as we can.” 

This latest Colectivo cafe joins a growing list of Milwaukee restaurants, taverns and coffee shops that have not survived the pandemic, or have shut down and are waiting for normal daily life and economic activity to resume.

At least 15 workers lost their jobs when the latest cafe closed, an organizer of Colectivo’s burgeoning union told Urban Milwaukee. The company’s employees are in the middle of attempting to organize a company-wide union with the help of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 494. If the drive is successful, Colectivo employees will be represented by the IBEW local in future contract negotiations.

“We were devastated to learn about the Prospect location closing down,” Hillary Laskonis, one of the leaders of the unionization effort, told Urban Milwaukee in an email. On top of the cafe closing down, at least nine other workers that have been laid off from cafes in Chicago, Madison and Milwaukee.

The union is working to put together a relief fund for workers that have lost their jobs. In 2020, when the cafes in the Third Ward and Madison closed, workers managed to raise $4,000 for their co-workers that were laid off.

The continued layoffs and closures have also put new pressures on the workers and the unionization effort. The company has made new hires and not recalled previously laid off workers, Laskonis said. Rules surrounding recalling employees after layoffs, she noted, is the sort of thing a union could have negotiated in a bargaining agreement.

“It is unfortunate that these lay offs and closings are taking place before we could have an election and get an agreement,” she said. “We could have been able to bargain the effects of a layoff and recall. ”

The unionization attempt has been met with stiff opposition from the owners of the company, who hired union-avoidance consultants to dissuade workers from unionization and early on outlined their anti-union stance in a letter to their employees.

In November, the union tried to demonstrate their position that an organized labor force wouldn’t be bad for the company with a “reverse-boycott,” whereby they asked people to patronize the cafes and also show support for the union while they ordered their coffee.

“It is understood that the pandemic has caused financial hardships for the company, which is why this effort has continually encouraged the workers, the customers and all involved to support Colectivo through our reverse boycott efforts,” Laskonis said.

The employees working to unionize the Colectivo workforce are collecting authorization cards, which workers sign to show they approve the union acting as their bargaining representative. The organizers have told Urban Milwaukee they want a solid majority of the employees to have signed authorization cards before they call for a National Labor Relations Board election.

Laskonis said layoffs and new hires around the company have caused their lists of workers to fluctuate. “We continue to receive authorization cards, from new and current employees and have had recent support and encouragement from several newly organized companies in the coffee and brewing industries.”

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