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Another coffee chain's employees begin to unionize

Baristas at four-unit Good Karma in Philadelphia have filed for permission to hold elections on organizing.
SEIU rally/Photo from Shutterstock

Employees of another small chain of coffee shops have petitioned federal regulators for clearance to form a union, this time in Philadelphia.

Like their colleagues at similar concepts in at least 14 states, pro-union employees of Good Karma say they don’t have a gripe with a particular practice or policy of their four-unit employer. Rather, they contend that having a voice in the brand’s strategic direction will make the business more successful and improve the fortunes of all stakeholders, including staff members.  

“If they actually listen to their employees who are on the floor every day, we can help find solutions to problems, make things easier, and as a whole, make the company better,” Emileigh Ebersole, a barista at one of the Good Karmas, said in a statement.

“We are attempting to improve our work environment so that we want to stay at Good Karma and serve our communities,” said a co-worker, Suvi Williams.

A statement issued Wednesday by the established labor group affiliated with the unionization effort, Workers United, said Good Karma baristas alerted brand owner Shawn Nesbit to their intentions on Monday and asked that he voluntarily recognize the group as a collective bargaining unit.

Organizers said they waited 48 hours without getting a response and then petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for a go-ahead to schedule a vote by employees on forming a union.

The process is a reprise of what led to the organization of several small coffee chains and three units of the segment’s leader, Starbucks. Today, unions are in place at Spot Coffee in Buffalo, N.Y.; Colectivo Coffee in Milwaukee and Chicago; and Darwin’s Ltd. in Cambridge, Mass. Two-unit Storyville Coffee in Seattle filed an election request with the National Labor Relations Board on Feb. 17.

Unionization efforts are already underway at 114 Starbucks stores. Only one unit to date has voted not to organize.

Most of those operations formed an affiliation with Workers United, which in turn is associated with the nation’s second largest union, Service Employees International Union.

Two other regional chains, Burgerville in the Pacific Northwest and Tudor's Biscuit World in West Virginia, have been targeted by Industrial Workers of the World and United Food & Commercial Workers, respectively. 

Still, only 1.2% of the nation’s eating and drinking places were unionized at the end of 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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