âWhat if a bakery kept its heart and soul, but always remained open to new ideas?âÂ asks the websiteÂ for Tartine, theÂ world-renownedÂ Bay Area bakery. Elsewhere on the site, the bakery boasts of âProduction at a human scale.â Today, the humans who produce Tartineâs award-winning bread and pastries have a new idea of their own: a union.
The workers atÂ fourÂ Bay Area locationsâthreeÂ in San Francisco, one in Berkeleyâhave chosen to become members in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). In doing so, they join their counterparts at another iconic Bay Area institution, Anchor Brewing, one year after Anchor workersÂ went publicÂ with their union.
âWeâre proud to work at Tartine and want Tartine to be the best it possibly can be,â opens a letter delivered to management Thursday morning by members of the unionâs organizing committee. Of the estimated 215 workers at the four locations, 146 signed their name to the letter, a public declaration of their support for the union. The letter requests Tartine voluntarily recognize the union, but notes that should the company refuse, the union will file for a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election. Agustin Ramirez, lead ILWU organizer for Northern California, says the union will file for the election on Friday morning, 24 hours after the letterâs delivery, should the company decline voluntary recognition.
Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt opened Tartineâs first location in 2002, and have expanded their operations in recent years. The company has opened two new locations in the Bay Area since 2016, and stores continue openingâand closingâin Los Angeles and Seoul, South Korea. Workers say this rapid growth is a key reason to unionize.
âAs the company expanded, we were seeing a certain amount of neglect toward the workersâand not only the people, but operations too: money to pay invoices, for example, wasnât there,â says Pat Thomas, 30, a server at the Tartine Manufactory. âWe werenât getting the attention we felt like we deserved because they were opening all these new locations, and it started feeling more corporate.â Thomas hopes unionization can rescue what was once a positive company environment, âbefore itâs too late.â
Tartine was âexpanding like crazy, opening multiple restaurants in a short period of time, and then telling us that they don’t have the money to give us a $1 an hour raise,â says Emily Haddad, 31, a barista at the Manufactory. âIt wasnât really matching up,â she adds.
Indeed, workers feel management is âmaking it up as they goâ when it comes to pay, says Mason Lopez, 36, a barista at the Berkeley location. Many spoke of their wages as nowhere near livable, with employees frequently having to take second and third jobs. Plus, back-of-the-house staff is largely excluded from the tip pool, say workers, an arrangement to which some object.
Tartine âcan pay workers, the people who are making them the moneyâthe cooks and the prep and the dishwashers and so onâa living wage,â says Hannah Gerard, 27, a server at the Manufactory.
In These TimesÂ was not able to reach any back-of-the-house employees for comment. Workers admit to the difficulties of coordinating the front of the house and the back of the house in the campaign, but describe support for the union as âwidespreadâ across all positions and locations, with a worker at one location characterizing support as strongest among dishwashers and prep cooks.
âThe dishwashers and prep cooks have been insanely proactive and have gotten a lot of people on board,â says Gerard.
âThese are world-class bakers,â adds Lopez, listing off awards the bread has won over the years. âThese bakers should be making at least $25 an hour, something that mirrors their experience and level of skill, and then you find out they’re making minimum wage and barely in the tip pool. Why?â
Throughout history, bakers have a storied record of organizing. One of the first acts proposed by the Executive Committee of the Paris Commune in 1871 was aÂ ban on night-work, a response to bakery workersâ longstanding demands. In the United States, too, bakersâ unions have a long history. The Journeymen Bakersâ Union, founded in 1880, merged into what is now the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millersâ International Union (BCTGM), which still represents some 140,000 members, mostly in the food processing industry.
In addition to higher wages, Tartine workers speak of a desire for paid-time off, as well as a say in decisions relating to employee health insurance. While Tartine offers health insurance to anyone who works 25 or more hours per week, the company recently switched workersâ health insurance provider, causing several to lose their doctors. Additionally, several workers say they hope unionizing will bring greater transparency across the company, particularly when it comes to where Tartineâs money is going.
âIf the company’s telling us that they’re broke because their projects are going out of business, we have the right to see for ourselves instead of taking their word for it,â says Thomas. âWeâre just asking for a say.â
âMoney has been funneling into San Francisco by the bucketload over the last five years, but there’s not a lot of follow-through when it comes to restaurant workers, or anyone in cafes, and those are the people that keep these cities running,â says Lopez. âMoney changes hands, but we’re only getting the minimum that an employer is supposed to pay a person to avoid getting into legal trouble. Put that way, itâs hurtful.â
By announcing their union campaign, Tartine workers follow the lead of those at Anchor Brewing, a craft brewery that unionized last year, also with ILWU.
âWhen Anchor Steam went public with their unionization, that’s what motivated me to say, âLet’s actually do this instead of just talking about it,ââ says Thomas. FollowingÂ the launch of Anchorâs campaign, he met with people who had helped Anchor Steam workers organize. From there, he says, the process began in earnest.
âWe had read that Anchor Steam became public with their union and we thought that was awesome,â says Matthew Torres, 23, a barista at Tartineâs Berkeley location. âWe’d talked about it playfully, like âOh, that’d be so cool.ââ
Soon enough, a small group began meeting with Anchor Steam workers, an ILWU representativeâand, as was true in the Anchor Steam campaign, collaborating with the San Francisco chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), who provided meeting space along with organizing support.
âThe process of organizing can be very daunting, very scary, and kind of emotional at times,â says Torres, adding that having DSA present to facilitate space for Tartine workers to connect with other workers was âreally, really helpful.â SF DSA plans toÂ hold a rallyÂ with Tartine workers at 6pm at 24th Street Plaza Thursday. As with the Anchor campaign, workers hope to immediately build community support for their union.
Several workers stressed interest in working with the ILWU because of its radical history, and in particular, what Lopez describes as its âantiracist advocacy,â referring to ILWUâs willingness toÂ shut down the Port of OaklandÂ in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as itsÂ history of political boycottsÂ on cargo.
Tartine workers will join the same ILWU local as Anchor Steam workers, Local 6, expanding the less-traditional shops represented in the local. San Francisco veterinary hospital workers have also organized as Local 6 members, a process that Anchor workersâand DSA San Franciscoâhave supported.
Local 6 has âpharmaceutical workers, workers at landfills, workers at recycling facilities, workers at chocolate manufactories, radiologist technicians at hospitals, warehouses, and now, workers in the beer industry,â says Ramirez, the ILWU organizer, adding âWe believe that the workers have the right to choose their union. The ILWU will be with them until we reach the other side.â
As to how they expect management to respond to the union drive, workers are uncertain (In These TimesÂ reached out to Tartineâs Chief Operating Officer, Chris Jordan, for comment, and has yet to receive a response). âTartine likes to be known as an inclusive and welcoming place,â says Gerard. âHopefully they will take that reputation and do the right thing: Let us bargain a contract.â
Should unionization lead to an NLRB election, itâs possible the company will push for each Tartine location to hold a separate election, a possibility for which ILWUâs Ramirez says the union is prepared.
Tartine workers emphasize that just because theÂ vast majorityÂ of food service work in the United States isnât currently unionized, that doesnât mean the industry canât change its ways.
âI hope people can take inspiration from us, like we did from Anchor Steam,â says Torres. Food service workers âmove through jobs every few months or year because these workplaces are bad or unaccountable and I really want to see other people be inspired by what we’re doing and do it themselves, and aid them in doing that.â
âA lot of people think restaurant work is not a skill, or not a career,â agrees Lopez, âbut you can have a service job be your career. There are plenty of really talented, amazing people working in the service industry; the problem is they arenât taken care of.â Lopez spoke of how âexhaustingâ it is âto go from restaurant to restaurant, from bar to bar, and itâs always the same song.â
âWhy not make a difference,â asks Lopez. âWhy not set an example for other restaurant workers, and maybe inspire them to do the same?”
This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on February 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.