Courtesy of Sam Mameli

About 22 baristas at four coffee shops will vote on May 31 and determine whether or not to organize a union.

May 22, 2017

Gimme Coffee Baristas to Vote on Unionization

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Following weeks of meetings with management, Gimme Coffee baristas at four Upstate New York locations have filed to form a union and will vote on the measure next week.

About 22 baristas at four coffee shops — the Cayuga Street, West State Street, Gates Hall and Trumansburg stores — can vote May 31 on whether or not to organize a union, said Pete Meyers, a founder and coordinator at the Tompkins County Workers’ Center.

Some Gimme baristas, donning “Unite!” pins with the coffee shop’s trademark exclamation point, have been meeting to discuss the possible union with the franchise owner and say their discussions have been productive.

“We respect employees’ right to decide whether to unionize, and we’ll continue working with all our employees to make Gimme the best place it can be for our employees, customers, and coffee suppliers,” Kevin Cuddeback, owner and founder of Gimme Coffee, said in a release.

Meyers said the interactions between baristas and Cuddeback have been very positive and that Cuddeback has agreed to stay neutral in the election.

“He came around to that very quickly,” Meyers told The Sun. “Workers wanted more of a voice in how things were run there … there’s a sense of wanting more of a democracy at the workplace.”

Next Wednesday’s vote at the Gimme shops will be by secret ballot under the supervision of a regional director for the National Labor Relations Board, according to a notice filed with the board on Friday. Baristas, by voting yes or no, will decide on organizing a union to negotiate a contract with their employers.

“What this is guaranteeing us is a legal, binding and obligatory say with management,” said Samantha Mason, who has worked as a Gimme barista in Ithaca for nearly three years, “and it’s really exciting because we’re doing things out of the box because this is a new model for unionizing in this age.”

Mason told The Sun she plans to distribute surveys to workers to determine what issues are most important in bargaining with management, but that she believes there is a consensus from coworkers on several major issues.

Gimme baristas have been meeting for weeks at the Tompkins County Workers' Center to discuss possible unionization. A vote is set for May 31.

Courtesy of Richard Bensinger

Gimme baristas have been meeting for weeks at the Tompkins County Workers’ Center to discuss possible unionization. A vote is set for May 31.

“One of the biggest things is making a living wage without the community appreciation of tips and also restructuring how the company communicates and uses the money we bring in daily,” Mason said, adding that workers want to have a say in how the company’s profits are allocated.

Meyers said Gimme treats its workers well and that baristas were intrigued partially by the idea of creating a union that could eventually encompass hospitality workers in the region.

He said the Tompkins County Workers’ Center has operated a hotline for 15 years and that hospitality workers have filed a “disproportionate amount of complaints … about their treatment in the workplace.”

Korbin Richards, a barista at the Gates Hall Gimme shop at Cornell, said the unionization effort is “important not just for Gimme! Coffee but for the whole working class.”

“We want to prove that you can create a reciprocally transparent and respectful relationship with your employer, which will hopefully redraw what it means to be in the service industry,” she said.