April 18, 2010

Local Coffee Union Cancels National Labor Relations Board Election

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Less than two months after forming a union, a group of Ithaca Coffee Company employees has decided to cancel an election that could have allowed them to collectively bargain with the company. The union, which includes students from Cornell and Ithaca College, had scheduled a National Labor Relations Board election for Mar. 21, but announced its decision to call off the election — which, according to the workers, the union could have won — during a press conference on Friday.

The Tompkins County Coffee Workers Union, which was created in February, is a small union with no affiliation to larger labor organizations, such as the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. The union was formed primarily to increase lines of communication with Ithaca Coffee Company management and solve problems with scheduling and breaks, according to Kirsten Sundin grad, an employee at the company and a TCCWU member.

If the union had won the election on Wednesday, it would have been recognized as the bargaining representative for the Ithaca Coffee Company’s employees. Now, without the election, the TCCWU cannot formally bargain with the company on behalf of the workers. Rather, it exists as an organization to help employees advance their interests.

Workers said they decided to withdraw their request for an election because the NLRB’s election process — which follows strict rules outlined in federal law — was not designed with unions like the TCCWU in mind.

“We’re a small, grass-roots union,” Joshua Geldzahler, a TCCWU member, said. “It doesn’t seem like the NLRB process will get us any closer to our goals.”

Instead of an election, the TCCWU plans to engage in a “community campaign” to increase support for the union as it continues to seek improved communication with management, Geldzahler said.

“The hope is that communication will open up and become more productive,” said Nate Bartman, Ithaca College ’10 and TCCWU member. Improved communication “can help ensure that the requests, desires and needs of workers can be brought to management,” he said.

Communication has already increased, according to Ithaca Coffee Company owner Julie Crowley.

“We’ve been talking more,” Crowley told The Ithaca Journal. “As far as things improving, we’ve been talking.”

The company now has an “open door policy” for its employees, Bartman said.

Since the union was formed in February, workers have also obtained breaks during the workday and can now learn their schedules further in advance, according to Sundin. But workers still want regular meetings with management and a more formal review process, she said.

Although the union has presently decided to abandon its request for a formal election, such an election may still take place in the future.

“We reserve the right to file a petition again down the road,” Geldzahler said.

Original Author: Michael Linhorst