Workers at Tartine Bakery and Tartine Manufactory are moving forward with unionization, despite a pandemic year that left some among them laid off and left the Manufactory open primarily for takeout only.

The unionization drama at Tartine dates back to before coronavirus was a thing, with a close union vote including a bunch of contested votes that took place literally days before the city shut down for the first shelter-in-place order. There were 89 votes in favor of joining the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), but 84 votes against it, and there were 24 votes left in dispute between the union and Tartine's management. The dispute was sent to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and as the Chronicle reports, a local labor board reviewed the disputed ballots and threw out 14, leaving 10 that it said should be counted. Tartine appealed that decision to the NLRB, which this week rejected that appeal, and the ballots were opened.

The pro-union side picked up four votes, and the anti side picked up six votes, leaving the final vote at 93-90 in favor of unionizing.

Tartine has said that the company, despite expansions and outward appearances, still was not profitable, and that this union effort was misguided and potentially would lead to the company's collapse. They were then accused of union busting, and so it goes.

Tartine's management, which includes Los Angeles-based managing partner Bill Chait along with co-founders Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt, have yet to comment.

Chait had previously commented, regarding the company's fincances, "Tartine isn’t a conglomerate. How much can you charge for a loaf of bread? $16? $18?"

But for the pro-union workers, now comes the difficult task of both uniting a divided workforce, and negotiating at a time when many of those who cast those original ballots may not even be employed there anymore. Also, they will need to establish what their demands actually are.

"We have always said once we win we will survey the workers and determine what it is in fact they’re going to fight for,” says ILWU organizer Agustin Ramirez, speaking to the Chronicle.

He admits that "many workers are no longer in the area," and "others had to survive and find other jobs."

Workers had complained that as the company expanded with locations in Los Angeles, Berkeley, and Korea, some of them lost their benefits and the company was becoming too corporate. And many felt they deserved to make more than SF's minimum wage, which was $16.07 per hour as of July 2020.

As one worker told the Chronicle last winter, "In San Francisco, many of us are one or two missed paychecks away from being homeless. You should be able to work at a restaurant as established as Tartine and have that be your only job."

But Tartine's success has been far from meteoric, and some of its recent expansions have already been curtailed. As of last year, the Berkeley outpost at the Graduate Hotel closed and all of its employees were let go. The Tartine Manufactory in Downtown L.A. shut down in December 2019 after just a year in business.

If the union effort proceeds as expected, Tartine will be one of very few restaurants in the city with unionized staffs — but it will be part of a trend that began with Anchor Brewing in 2019, a union effort also led by the ILWU.

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