Brewing Market Coffee employees join growing cadre of unionized baristas

BOULDER — Workers at Brewing Market Coffee last week voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining a labor union.

The vote came the same week that baristas at Starbucks 11th Avenue location in Greeley made the same choice, and represents the latest indication of a strengthening labor-organization movement in the Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado, led in large part by retail, hospitality and food-service workers. 

The vote by employees at Brewing Market, a coffee seller and coffee-shop operator with locations in Boulder, Longmont and Lafayette, to link up with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 26 was approved 30-5, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

Workers will rally at 4 p.m. on Friday at the Boulder Brewing Market location at 1918 13th St., a Local 26 official told BizWest. 

Brewing Market workers said they’d organized in search of better working conditions, pay and benefits. 

“We aren’t paid enough, and barely make the tips we’re promised,” Benny Cardin, a barista at Brewing Market’s Tea Emporium and Coffee Shop location in downtown Boulder, said in a prepared statement when the decision to begin the unionization push was made in August. “We want to be able to afford rent, afford food, have basic health care, and live a life not based on the fear that comes with living paycheck to paycheck. Baristas in Boulder deserve so much more, and we are ready to fight for it.”

The newly minted members of Local 26 won’t be fighting alone. Late last year, workers at Boulder’s Spruce Confections LLC, which manufactures baked goods and operates several cafe-coffee shops, voted to throw their lot in with the union and began negotiations this year on their first labor contract.

The Denver-based Local 26 represents manufacturing, production, maintenance, and sanitation workers at bakeries and food-production operations around Colorado.

Starbucks workers at a location in Superior in April became the first in the state to unionize, with eight locations now unionized in Colorado. An election in Breckenridge is scheduled for Oct. 18.

“At the end of the day, our biggest motivation for unionizing is how much we care about each other,” Olivia Schmich, a barista at the Brewing Market’s Espresso Vino location in Lafayette, said this summer. “I think history will look back on us for being part of the change future generations will benefit from. Knowing that makes this all worth it.”

The local unionization effort among coffee-shop and cafe workers comes amid a period of relative ascendance for organized labor, both in Colorado and across the country. 

To be sure, organized labor in the United States has largely been on the wane for the last four-plus decades, but the tight labor market and the COVID-19 pandemic have shifted the balance of power in the direction of certain workers. 

Much of the recent labor organizing activity has involved service, retail and hospitality workers who, unlike employees in other sectors with the ability to work remotely, are often unable to adjust working conditions and settings to better align with the post-pandemic business environment. 

Colorado United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 members employed by Kroger Co.’s (NYSE: KR) King Soopers — who worked on the front line of the pandemic when many other businesses were closed while processing the trauma of a 2021 mass shooting that killed 10 in the company’s Table Mesa grocery store location in Boulder — exerted some of their power this year, striking for nine days in January before inking a new three-year labor contract

“The pandemic has revealed that some jobs we’ve thought of as fairly innocuous are actually harmful [to workers in certain positions],” Jeffrey Zax, a professor of economics and a labor expert at the University of Colorado Boulder, told BizWest in a June interview. “You’re exposed to the public and therefore exposed to public health hazards, so your health is at risk. That means that employers have to treat their employees better if they want to have any.”

Source: BizWest

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