NLRB decision puts Colectivo Coffee union vote over the top

Colectivo's Third Ward cafe on St. Paul Ave.

Last updated on August 25th, 2021 at 11:28 am

Workers at Colectivo Coffee have voted to unionize by a 106 to 99 vote, the IBEW Local 494 announced on Monday.

“Colectivo Coffee workers have worked diligently for the opportunity to have their voices heard,” said Dean Warsh, business manager of IBEW Local 494. “Now that the ballots have been counted, and once certified, IBEW Local 494 will begin moving forward with bargaining surveys and plans to assist them with their first negotiated contract.”

“We are very proud of the workers at Colectivo Coffee,” Warsh added. “They have taken a bold and necessary step toward ensuring that every employee has fair treatment and dignity in their work. Further, they have strengthened the bonds and created new friendships with workers at Colectivo worksites across state lines—developing a shared understanding and commitment to each other’s well-being. They put their hearts and soul into this organizing effort and left nothing on the field.”

Workers filed a petition for a union election back in February for a bargaining unit that includes 328 full- and part-time employees in the company’s café, bakery and warehouse locations in Illinois and Wisconsin.

The vote took place in March and ended with 99 votes for unionization and 99 against. Another 16 ballots were challenged. The challenges involved issues with employees resigning or being terminated around the time of the election, three who were not on the voter list and two in which Colectivo questioned signatures on the ballot.

National Labor Relations Board regional director Jennifer Hadsall ruled in May that five of the ballots should be counted because the workers were properly employed at the time of the vote, even if they were set to leave soon after. Another five ballots were thrown out because the employee had left the company prior to mailing the ballot. Two ballots with signatures were included in the count by Hadsall and a decision on four other ballots was delayed until after the 12 ballots were counted.

Colectivo challenged the decision to include the votes of employees who provided notice of their resignation but had not officially left the company when they voted. The company argued the election agreement covering the vote says those who quit after the eligibility date would be ineligible.

In addition to pointing to the election agreement, Colectivo also argued the NLRB should reconsider its precedent of counting ballots of employees who leave a company before votes are counted.

“If this request for review is rejected … then the outcome of an election in which more than 200 votes were cast will be decided by 5 voters who quit their employment prior to the date their votes were counted,” the company’s attorneys wrote in asking the NLRB to review the decision. “Why should the future of the union or the company be subject to the whims of five employees who voluntarily severed ties with Colectivo prior to the vote count? These employees made clear that they have no vested interest in Colectivo or members of the proposed bargaining unit.”

On Aug. 13, however, the NLRB ruled against Colectivo and denied its request for review “as it raises no substantial issues warranting review.”

The ballots were officially tallied on Monday.

In an open letter to customers posted on the company’s website, Colectivo’s Dan Hurdle, Paul Miller and Lincoln and Ward Fowler said they were disappointed in the result but would “respect the rules and bargain in good faith.

“We don’t think these former coworkers should have been allowed to have a voice in unionization at an organization where they did not intend to work,” the letter says, noting the election is a result of a process from the spring and “our employee census is dynamic.”

“At final count, less than one third of the eligible co-workers supported the union, and as of today, it is our best estimate that fewer than 100 of our current 440 co-workers voted for this union,” the letter says.

The letter also says the company is committed to paying workers at the top of the market and to actively support and engage in the community.

“We will not allow this to change the remarkable Colectivo experience for our customers.  We will remain intensely focused on our customers and the generous and responsible approach we’ve always taken as employers will remain unchanged,” the letter says.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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