Last Friday, workers from three East Bay Peet’s Coffee locations marched to Peet’s corporate office in Emeryville to deliver a letter announcing their intention to unionize with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). This is the second union drive at Peet’s this year, the first being a location in Davis, CA, which unionized back in January.
The three unionizing stores employ a total of 58 workers and are located in Berkeley and in the Temescal and Piedmont neighborhoods in Oakland. The union drive started in January, soon after news broke that the Davis location won their vote 14-1. Kimberly, a six-year employee at the Berkeley Peet’s, said that friends sent them links to articles about the Davis win, prompting them to start talking to coworkers about unionizing. They soon got in touch with Deya, a shift lead at the Temescal location who had also heard about the Davis union and was interested in organizing. They also reached out to workers at the Piedmont location, including Deuce, who has worked there as a shift lead for two years.
They decided to start organizing because of their frustration with workplace health and safety issues, unpredictable scheduling, a lack of pay equity, and an “overall sense of chaos”.
“My coworkers and I have had to constantly work through unsafe conditions, such as biohazards, [as well as] alongside vermin and physical and verbal attacks from the public,” Kimberly stated in the IWW’s press release about the drive.
Deuce described how workers at the Piedmont location complained to the company about bowing in the floor behind the bar where they worked, only to find out the support below the floor had rotted out and needed replacement. Despite this, Peet’s management refused to close the store and required workers to continue service on the rotted out floor and during repairs. Workers also described persistent issues with vermin at the Piedmont location, which they had to remove without being provided safety gear.
Deya, Kimberly, and Deuce all said that workers sometimes found their hours cut to just below the threshold required to qualify for health insurance. High staff turnover meant they were frequently asked to work for extended periods with no days off, and were required to find their own coverage if they were sick or needed time off. They described how one Peet’s employee at the Berkeley location left work to go to the hospital with appendicitis and was asked to come back into work the day following their operation because they were denied sick leave. They were also notified of a manager at the Piedmont location who pressured employees to return to work despite them testing positive for COVID-19.
Another issue was a lack of security protocol and support from management. Despite numerous complaints from workers about harassment from customers, management offered little to no assistance. Safety issues were not unique to these locations — a Peet’s worker at their Oakland warehouse died in March after the warehouse roof caved in on them.
The Peet’s workers, with the help of the IWW, are hoping for a union contract that enforces a broad range of changes, including better safety and security training, pay equity, fair scheduling, improved health benefits, and a cost of living adjustment to meet the high cost of living in the Bay Area. They also hope to establish stronger connections with workers at other Bay Area Peet’s locations, distribution centers, and warehouses, and are asking Peet’s employees to get in touch.
As unionization efforts continue to grow across the US, these workers are hopeful about improving conditions at their workplace. For Deya, the unionization effort built community and promoted face to face interactions which helped to pierce their feeling of loneliness on the job.
Kimberly agreed, adding “complaining is a great way to start organizing. Venting to each other face to face is a great way to find common ground and start building towards solutions.”
Photo by Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)