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Peet’s Workers Are Filing to Unionize, Joining Massive Cafe Union Wave

If successful, they would be the first to unionize at the over 330-location chain.

A woman wearing a mask walks past a Peet's Coffee in Union Square on September 30, 2020 in New York City.

Workers at two Peet’s Coffee locations in Davis, California, are filing for a union this week, hoping to join a growing cafe labor organizing wave and to become the first of the company’s over 330 locations to unionize.

As first reported by More Perfect Union, workers at the Peet’s locations say they have been organizing for five months with Workers United, a subsidiary of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) that’s behind Starbucks workers’ union drive, which has unionized more than 250 stores over the last year.

Workers are confident they will be successful, with union leaders at both stores saying that employee support for the union is nearly unanimous. They have asked management to agree to a list of non-interference principles and requested that management not retaliate against workers for unionizing.

Workers say they were prompted to organize by poor working conditions within the chain. Pay starts at minimum wage, they say, which in California is $15 an hour — below the living wage of at least $21.82 an hour for an adult in the state with no children, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator. Workers are also sent home early from their shifts, which cuts their pay and places stress on the remaining staff.

“I really love what I do, and I really believe in the Peet’s values, but every year it gets harder to do this job, it gets busier and busier and everything gets more and more expensive,” organizer Alyx Land told More Perfect Union. “At my last review, I got the highest mark you can get and that raise was 50 cents. With inflation, that’s less money than I made last year. It radicalized me.”

“It’s just not enough money, fundamentally, for the jobs we’re doing here — they’re really demanding, physically and mentally, and very technical,” Land continued.

Hostile customers and the increasing popularity of mobile orders has created stressful and sometimes abusive conditions at work, employees say, with company higher-ups taking little action to mitigate problems like harassment from customers. Meanwhile, there is little opportunity for upward movement for workers.

“There’s no recourse for harassment by customers, we’ve had a few members of our clientele who have made a lot of employees really uncomfortable and not comfortable coming to work,” said North Davis worker Schroedter Kinman. “What ends up happening is nothing gets done, and people continue to be uncomfortable and feel unsafe in the workplace.”

Similar issues have been reported by unionizing Starbucks workers, who also say that low pay, harassment from customers and seeming indifference from management in solving such problems drove them to unionize.

If successful, the Peet’s workers will form a union at one of the largest coffee chains in the country. They would also join workers at local coffee shops, like Darwin’s in Boston, Colectivo in Wisconsin and Spot Coffee in Buffalo, the last of which inspired the Starbucks movement.