Three Peet’s Coffee shops in Berkeley and Oakland, California, United States, won their campaign to form a union with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
On June 9, the workers filed their demand for a union election for the stores at 2051 Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, and at 4050 Piedmont Avenue and 5095 Avenue (known as Temescal) in Oakland. They endured a month of anti-union tactics. However, the inoculation of the union to the lies of the bosses worked.
The National Labor Relations Board certified the victory for each store on July 27, 2023. The campaign kicked off in February 2023, initially inspired by a victory by another union. There was news that the Peet’s store in Davis unionized with SEIU. Curious, the workers asked SEIU for help. However, they did not reach an understanding with the food and services union affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).
“When we met with SEIU they were not good at communication, they didn’t respond. When we asked questions about how the process worked and what it would be like to work with them, they didn’t give us clear answers as if they didn’t want to give clear answers about where the money we would pay goes,” said Alondra Solis Guzman, who works at the Temescal store. “We have also been in communication with the workers at Peet’s Davis and they were organized with SEIU. They had also had that experience that they were not very good at communication nor did they inform us of all the paperwork that we had to do.”
In contrast, the Industrial Workers of the World treated them with more respect and practical help. “When we talked to the IWW, they immediately started helping us, answering our questions about the whole process and they helped us a lot with all the paperwork. They take great care of us and they are teaching us a lot about the process. We really like to know everything that is happening.”
The treatment of the employees does not respect the needs of the employees, according to Alondra. “They don’t care much about the employees at work. There are a lot of people who hurt their hands, their shoulders, doing the job. We have to spend hours at these drink machines. Sometimes there is no one to come to help us because we don’t have enough employees. Also the training isn’t good.”
The problems are preventable even though management does not do anything to solve them.
“Since I have worked there for many years, every year the air conditioning has broken down. They have us like this working in temperatures of 85 to 90 degrees F and we are working with hot coffee machines,” said Alondra. “The second year I was working there, one of the employees fainted and we had to call an ambulance. One of our clients helped us carry her to the back.”
Managers taking no action and effectively granting impunity to abusive clients is another reason that prompted the union’s campaign.
“There are risks with customers who get angry. One of my colleagues, a customer came in, got angry for some reason and threw boiling water in his face. And Peet’s tells us a story… someone comes in and they give out paperwork and ask us to sign something, and they say that something is going to change, but eventually I don’t hear anything. And the changes that we were promised disappear,” said Miguel Ochoa, another employee at the Temescal store. “So we want a little more permanent change, that is, we are going to have a little more collective power to be able to stop those things or, if they happen, to be able to take action that is more effective than filling out paperwork.”
The next step for the workers is to negotiate a contract with Peet’s corporate office. The workers are preparing themselves to fix the problems within the company.
“We want something called a ‘no tolerance policy’ so when clients come and insult us and make us feel that we’re not safe at work, that the company bars the clients, so they don’t let people like that return them to the cafes,” said Alondra.
“Peet’s has the potential to be a great place to work, if they would just listen to the workers,” said Kai Dinneen, a worker at the Piedmont store in Oakland.
The hours and work scheduling are key issues for the union.
“One of the things is how the hours are distributed. There are many people who do not receive the hours that they were told they would receive when they were hired. We want more fixed hours, which do not change, because there are times that they give us like 5 hours, other times that they give us 20 or more. We want more fixed hours.”
Another major demand is access to health insurance benefits for all employees. Currently, employees who work less than 22 hours are ineligible for insurance. “We want the benefits to be for all part-time employees,” said Alondra.
The IWW victory in Berkeley and Oakland has reached the ears of employees at other Peet’s stores across the country. Peet’s is a national chain with more than 200 stores in 11 states, two coffee roasteries, and national distribution of its coffee in supermarkets.
“We hope that many stores will follow after us, that we won’t be the last,” Alondra said.
“These are just the first ones to be unionized with the IWW,” according to Miguel.
Photo from www.peetslaborunion.org.