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Another fine-dining star faces unionization, stoking fears of a Starbucks-like organizing blitz

Working Lunch: "We may be on the verge of having an organizing effort in the fine-dining segment."

Evidence is mounting that unions are readying a new organizing drive similar to the one that caught on within Starbucks, but with a focus this time on fine-dining restaurants, both independent and chain, according to this week’s Working Lunch government-affairs podcast.

Co-hosts Joe Kefauver and Franklin Coley focus on indications from last week that the James Beard Award-winning Kim’s in Minneapolis is likely to be turned into a union shop. A majority of employees have presented a petition for union recognition to celebrity chef-proprietor Ann Kim. Under new organizing rules, a vote may not even be required to make Unite Here the staff’s representative in contract negotiations.

The situation parallels what’s happening at Lido, a highly regarded chef-driven restaurant in New York City. The Harlem establishment is likely to be directed by federal regulators to recognize the formation of a union by its staff, also without an election.

“I’m going to go ahead and call it: We may be on the verge of having an organizing effort in the fine-dining segment kicking off here in New York City and Minneapolis,” said Coley, who co-runs the Align Public Strategies consultancy in Orlando with Kefauver. “I’ve got flashing red alert alarms going off in my office right now. It could be the first of more to come.”

Both situations parallel what happened to Starbucks, he asserted. A major union focused on a small but highly publicized organizing victory at three green-awninged stores in Buffalo, New York, triggering the staffs of other restaurants to seek representation in a domino effect.

Ann Kim and her restaurants are high-profile standouts in the Minneapolis fine-dining scene, Coley continued. The staffs of other local fine-dining restaurants are likely to follow suit, with organized labor’s encouragement. And “there’s no reason the union can’t march across the street from Ann Kim’s to a fine-dining restaurant that’s part of a fine-dining chain,” he stressed.

He implored restaurants in Minneapolis, traditionally a progressive municipality, to prepare accordingly for the sort of organizing wildfire that swept through Starbucks.

“It hasn’t rained in three months, the grass is dry and it’s covered in gasoline. All it takes is that match,” he said. “If you don’t have the fire hose out and you’re not spraying down your locations, then you’re a fool.

“Don’t be Starbucks, don’t be asleep at the wheel,” Coley continued. “Know what you can do and say legally once an organizing campaign starts.”

For a full account of what is happening in Minneapolis that could spread elsewhere, hit play on this week’s podcast installment.

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