The staff at Tartine's four main Bay Area locations are taking a vote this week on whether to join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), and both some local restaurateurs and some on the staff are wondering aloud whether the operation can survive unionization.
The 140 employees spread across Tartine Bakery, Tartine Manufactory, the still newish Tartine Inner Sunset, and the Berkeley bakery outpost all have to decide whether to invite the union into their lives, with the hopes of potentially higher wages, better benefits, or other things to be negotiated. It's something that was accomplished last year by workers at Anchor Brewing, and that seems to be directly inspiring this effort.
Although the circumstances are far from parallel. At Anchor, brewery workers were seeking raises and 85 percent healthcare coverage, but they were doing so from a huge Japanese conglomerate, Sapporo Holdings, which bought the historic brewery several years ago. At Tartine, owners Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt and managing partner Bill Chait tell the Chronicle that the business still is not profitable, and that the reason they've expanded in recent years is in order to try to become profitable at scale.
"Tartine isn’t a conglomerate," Chait tells the paper. "How much can you charge for a loaf of bread? $16? $18?” He adds, "I wish there were bags of money coming out of Tartine every month so everyone could make $25 an hour. The truth is collective bargaining doesn’t necessarily lead to a $5 per hour increase."
Most workers at the business make minimum wage, which in San Francisco is $15 per hour. But union dues will have to come out of that before workers know what kind of raise they can negotiate.
Workers say that life has changed at the company since it opened the Manufactory three and a half years ago, added a commissary bakery, and opened the Coffee Manufactory in Oakland. They've said the place has become increasingly corporate, but they are also demanding more corporate structure, like performance reviews that can lead to raises.
Prueitt explains to the Chronicle that Tartine's expansion to Los Angeles and South Korea is not financially linked to the Bay Area business. And it should be noted that the Los Angeles operation just had to shutter its huge DTLA Manufactory location in December because it apparently wasn't doing well enough after only a year in business. (Another L.A. location remains, and a second is apparently still in the works.)
And, per the Chronicle, there are plenty of anti-union workers on the staff who are arguing with the pro-union side — and members of both sides say they will leave the company if the vote doesn't go their way.
Local restaurateur Traci Des Jardins, who has opened and closed a number of restaurants in SF over the years and operated two that had union staffs including Public House at Oracle Park, tells the paper that she doubts Tartine can "bear the cost" of higher wages — and she warns pro-union workers that they could be driving Tartine out of business.
This is a classic arguments of course, and it remains to be seen how large the pro-union bunch is — though union organizer had recommended gettin 70 percent of the staff on board before moving forward last month. The SF locations will take their vote on Thursday, while the Berkeley location will vote on Friday.
San Francisco has a history of unionized restaurant workers, but these days there are only a scattered few that still have union staffs, including Tommy's Joynt, John's Grill, and Scoma's. As the Chronicle noted last month, "Though union restaurants are rare today, if Tartine workers organized, it would mark a new chapter in a long history of unionized independent restaurants in San Francisco." The local hospitality union, Local 2, lost a major fight back in the 80s that led to it eventually just focusing on hotel workers.
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