Union sees grounds for organizing at Intelligentsia Coffee

Local 1220 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers is seeking to represent the chain’s employees in Chicago.

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Intelligentsia’s five cafes in Chicago have become the third coffee chain in the region to have employees who have organized with a union.

Intelligentsia employees in Chicago might vote to join the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Sun-Times files

The union organizing drive involving coffee chains in Chicago amounts to more than a hill of beans. First there was Colectivo, then Starbucks and now workers at Intelligentsia Coffee have voiced interest in unionizing.

Local 1220 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has filed a petition for a union election covering workers at the five Intelligentsia storefronts in Chicago, plus its Chicago Roasting Works warehouse at 1850 W. Fulton St. If accepted by the National Labor Relations Board, the petition could lead to an election that decides if the workers unionize.

John Rizzo, business manager of Local 1220, estimated the union would include 40 to 50 workers, with the composition of the bargaining unit to be determined at NLRB hearings. He said the union submitted cards requesting a union election signed by more than half of the eligible workers.

All employees would be under one bargaining unit. The IBEW’s approach differs from the national campaign the Service Employees International Union is waging against Starbucks, which seeks representation on a store-by-store basis. The NLRB said the campaign has resulted in unionization at three Starbucks in the Chicago area and 98 nationally, with additional elections to come.

Rizzo said the IBEW drew its impetus from the union’s successful organizing of the Colectivo chain in August 2021. Workers in the Chicago area and in Wisconsin are negotiating their first contract, he said.

“This has been a real grassroots effort at Intelligentsia, triggered by Colectivo,” Rizzo said. “Coffee is its own community. The workers talk to each other about what’s going on at the different chains.

“We know these companies are extremely profitable. We know there is money to be given to the workers.”

Intelligentsia had no immediate comment Friday. The Chicago-based chain in 2015 was sold to Peet’s Coffee but operates as a separate brand.

Intelligentsia’s outlets in Chicago are at 53 E. Randolph St.; 53 W. Jackson Blvd.; 3121 N. Broadway; 1609 W. Division St.; and 2642 N. Milwaukee Ave. It also has locations in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Austin, Texas, according to its website.

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