Graham Kilmer

Colectivo Workers Petition for Union Election

NLRB election would determine whether Colectivo Coffee workers get a union.

By - Feb 16th, 2021 06:28 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.

Employees of Colectivo Coffee who are trying to form a union have filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The employees are organizing with the support of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) locals 494 and 1220

Organizers can file a petition for a representation election once 30% of a company’s employees have signed and returned authorization cards, which are statements from an employee saying they authorize the union — in the case IBEW — to act as their representative. The workers organizing at Colectivo previously told Urban Milwaukee they wanted a solid majority of returned authorization cards before they would petition for an election.

Assuming the NLRB approves the petition, the election will be by secret ballot; employees of the company will vote whether they want to have the IBEW become their labor and bargaining representative. Like the recent union election at the Milwaukee Art Museum the election will be done by mail due to the pandemic.

Workers at Colectivo have been organizing since August, attempting to form a companywide union that would represent all non-management employees in Milwaukee, Chicago and Madison.

Like other unionization attempts in the city the pandemic has been both a catalyst for seeking labor representation and also a barrier. When the pandemic first hit, there were workplaces with unannounced union organizing happening behind the scenes, only to see those efforts scuttled by mass layoffs.

Hillary Laskonis, an employee organizing at Colectivo, said layoffs at the company from pandemic-caused closures have been a challenge.

The owners of Colectivo, Lincoln Fowler, Ward Fowler and Paul Miller, have opposed the unionization attempt of their employees from the start. The company did not respond to requests for comment on this story.  

In August, when the effort became public, they sent out a letter to their employees explaining why they “strongly oppose” the union. The letter warned that workers would lose their voice in the company because the union would speak for them, that the union would undermine the “close and collaborative” relationship management has with the workers and that the union will be an “unnecessary third party” that costs the workers money in union dues.

The organizers have stressed from the start that they believe a union would give workers leverage in company decision making, allow them to communicate concerns and that the union would be comprised of the workers — not a third party.

In early fall of 2020, the owners hired expensive “union avoidance” consultants specializing in “maintaining the union-free workplace” to hold meetings intended to inform employees “of their rights and their ability to exercise and express these rights,” according to a spokesperson from Colectivo.

At the time Laskonis told Urban Milwaukee the consultants were viewed by organizers as an attempt to dissuade employees from supporting unionization.

Now, after more than six months of organizing, the issue is likely to be decided by an NLRB election.

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Categories: Business, Health

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