NYC cafe chain will be a test of a new unionization process

Employers will need to be more active—and careful—under the new protocol that went into effect last month.
Employees of three-unit Hex & Co. have told management they wish to unionize. | Photo courtesy of Workers United NY

Employees of the three-unit Hex & Co. cafe chain in New York City have presented management with a notice of their desire to unionize, setting up a trial of the new process regulators imposed last month to streamline the organizing procedure.

Under updated protocol, the proprietors of Hex will have two weeks to petition the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for an election if they opt not to voluntarily recognize a chapter of Workers United, the union that is organizing Starbucks. Under the previous protocol, workers would formally ask the NLRB, the federal agency that regulates union elections, to schedule an election to determine if a union represents them. The new arrangement shifts the responsibility of calling for an election to management.

One of the most controversial aspect of the new process is the greater leeway it gives the NLRB to recognize the employees as a collective bargaining regardless of an election’s outcome. If the Board has found the employer has engaged in unfair labor practices of any sort leading up to the election, it can declare the union has prevailed, regardless of how employees voted.

Previously, the NLRB’s ability to negate an election was much more constrained. Typically the regulatory body would instead call for a second election.

The employees are asking for a minimum wage of $22.50 an hour, a clear career ladder and increased staffing.

Hex employs 75 people in all, according to Workers United. A point of difference for the fast-casual concept is its reliance on board games as a form of customer entertainment. Guests pay $10 to play per visit.

The three Manhattan outlets also run after-school programs whereby children can play games.

The workers include baristas, bartenders, the “dungeon masters” who run the games, and the after-school program administrators.

“All we are asking for is to be recognized and properly supported by this company that we already give so much to," Jace Alejo, one of the employees, said in a statement issued by Workers United. He calls his position “the most enjoyable job that I’ve had in a while,” but says that more is needed from the company if he and his co-workers are to continue living in New York City.

Hex & Co. is a collaboration of Greg May and Jon Freeman, two pioneers of bringing back old-style board games as a form of in-restaurant entertainment.

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