Colectivo Coffee workers in Chicago area, Wisconsin vote to unionize

The workers have affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers after disputed ballots in a close election were counted.

SHARE Colectivo Coffee workers in Chicago area, Wisconsin vote to unionize

Colectivo Coffee at 5425 N. Clark St., shown in 2020.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Workers at Colectivo Coffee, which has five locations in the Chicago area, have organized with a union in a close vote.

The employees affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The union said Tuesday that a tally of mailed-in ballots supervised by the federal government resulted in a 106-99 vote for organizing.

Brett Lyons, business representative for IBEW Local 1220, said Colectivo will be the largest coffee chain with unionized workers. “We certainly hope this will lead to other opportunities for employees who feel they have not been heard by management,” Lyons said.

The IBEW becomes the bargaining agent for workers in Colectivo cafes, warehouses and bakery areas. The company said about 440 workers will be in the bargaining unit.

Outside the Chicago area, Milwaukee-based Colectivo has 16 Wisconsin locations in either the Milwaukee region or Madison.

The initial vote count in April ended in 99-99 deadlock. But the National Labor Relations Board opted to count seven ballots the company objected to, all of which favored the union.

In an “open letter” to customers, the company said it was disappointed with the outcome but pledged to bargain in good faith. It said the seven ballots it opposed counting were from workers who had resigned. Only a fraction of eligible workers supported the union, the company noted.

“We don’t think those former coworkers should have been allowed to have a voice in unionization at an organization where they did not intend to work. The outcome is the result of a process that took place last spring and our employee census is dynamic,” the company said.

It said it is “committed to continuing to pay our workers at the top of the market and to actively supporting and engaging in our community.”

Lyons said the contested votes were valid because the workers were employed at Colectivo when they were cast.

Workers will be asked to complete surveys to express their views about priorities in a first contract, he said. They will be served jointly by IBEW locals 1220, based in Downers Grove, and 494, based in Milwaukee.

Along with concerns about pay and working conditions, Lyons said employees have mentioned a lack of diversity in company hiring. All are matters they want to prioritize at the bargaining table, he said.

The pandemic forced the balloting to be mail-in only and not on-site, perhaps reducing employee participation in the election, Lyons said. He said workers have established a committee to build solidarity across Colectivo sites and educate workers about the benefits of union membership.

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