140 employees of Tartine Bakery and Tartine Manufactory in the Bay Area are moving to unionize, and they delivered letters to management at Tartine's four primary Bay Area locations Thursday morning.
"We're proud to work at Tartine, and want Tartine to be the best it can possibly be," the letter states. "Tartine is renowned for the quality of its products and service. We want it to also be renowned for being one of the best places to work in the Bay Area."
As Mission Local reports, the letters were presented at each of Tartine's locations at 8 a.m. this morning — including the flagship bakery on Guerrero and 18th, the Manufactory, the 9th Avenue bakery-cafe in the Inner Sunset, and the new Berkeley location. (Workers at the company's SFO outpost are already unionized with other airport workers.) Tartine management now can choose to recognize the union or not, and the next step will be for the workers to file a Request for Certification petition with the National Labor Relations Board.
"San Francisco and Berkeley are union-friendly cities," the letter says, "and Bay Area residents, business, political and community leaders all support working families — not union busters."
While it's unclear exactly how many workers support the union effort, we know that the company has about 215 employees at those four locations, and 140 added their names to the letter.
The move to unionize, as Mission Local points out, comes exactly a year to the day after workers at Anchor Brewing announced their intention to unionize, and that is not likely a coincidence. Anchor's workers succeeded in their effort, and in December, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 6, announced its first contract with Anchor's parent company, Sapporo Holdings.
But there is also a report of an "increasingly strained workplace" as the company has rapidly expanded in recent years to Los Angeles and South Korea — and the big L.A. Manufactory location just shuttered abruptly in December after only a year in business.
Per the Chronicle, workers "want better pay and a voice in a company that they say is becoming increasingly corporate." The company reportedly recently moved its business headquarters to Los Angeles, and now operates 10 locations in three cities, with perhaps more to come. The company also recently hired a new executive team based in L.A., including chief operating officer Christopher Jordan, who previously worked for Starbucks and Verve Coffee Roasters, and managing partner Bill Chait, a major L.A. restaurateur.
One worker tells the paper that working at Tartine, while a great resume builder for bakers especially, is "not sustainable" as things stand, with most workers making minimum wage. Another worker says that the bakery is "really losing its San Francisco homegrown vibe."
While San Francisco was once a nexus of restaurant unions, this is the first unionization effort by restaurant workers here — outside of hotels — in decades. (The Chronicle notes that a couple of independent restaurants, including Scoma's and John's Grill, have unionized labor but they are legacies from an earlier generation.) Similarly, the union effort at Anchor Brewing was the first of its kind for a craft brewery. The latest effort at Tartine is also being led by organizers from the Democratic Socialists and the same union that worked with Anchor employees, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).
Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center, tells the Chronicle that conditions are ripe for labor organizing right now with the tight labor market in San Francisco coupled with the high cost of living and increased political attention being paid to unions in general.
The union mobilization comes two months after a rodent infestation led to a health department shutdown at the original Tartine Bakery location. The bakery managed to mitigate the problem and reopen two days later, but the embarrassment remains — and the incident pointed to a management team that was perhaps distracted with a lot of balls in the air.
It now remains to be seen what happens next — and the Chronicle talks to organizers who say it could be an uphill battle for the workers given the high turnover in general and how much daily contact management has with workers, allowing for plenty of time for dissuasion.
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