A smattering of one-off places have been unionized in recent weeks. / Photo: Shutterstock
Unions’ success in organizing restaurants is spilling beyond the chain market.
The 21 employees of an independent Vietnamese restaurant in Maine have voted to form a union affiliated with Unite Here, one of the industry’s largest labor groups. The unanimous “yea” vote marks the first time in 40 years that a Maine dining establishment unaffiliated with a chain has opted to unionize, according to a variety of local sources.
The team members say the restaurants’ owners supported the staff’s decision to organize.
Employees of the place have professed on social media that they hope their move will inspire the staffs of other independent restaurants nationwide to unionize as well. They cited the opportunity to set an example as their main motivation, and offered no criticism publicly of the restaurant’s culture, policies or working conditions.
Efforts to organize independent restaurants, once the only places where unions could be found in the industry, have been few and far between in recent years.
At the end of February, employees of Lodi, a fine-dining restaurant in New York City, voted against joining Workers United, the group behind the ongoing organization of Starbucks and a number of smaller coffee chains. The union has accused the operators of Lodi, Mattos Hospitality, of violating federal organizing rules in its efforts to remain union-free. Such allegations are common after a union loses a vote.
Workers United said it has filed formal complaints with the National Labor Relations Board and that an investigation is underway.
The vote was reportedly the first time in years that the staff of a New York City restaurant had formally considered unionizing.
The six employees of Kaiser’s Bean Cafe & Old-Fashioned Soda Fountain, an Oklahoma City landmark, voted March 8 to unionize. The workers said they were supported in their efforts by management.
It is unclear if Kaiser’s Bean Café Union is affiliated with a larger, umbrella-type union group. Local media said the restaurant is the only independent restaurant in the area to be staffed with union members, and the first to organize in a century.
The workers there have said they intend to press for paid vacations, health insurance and sick leave.
Workers at Berlin Nightclub in Chicago voted 16-4 on Tuesday to become part of Unite Here.
Other examples of an independent restaurant being unionized are still rare.
Meanwhile, the staffs of just under 300 Starbucks units have opted to unionize, with more votes coming. The employees are now members of Starbucks Workers United, an affiliate of Workers United and its parent organization, Service Employees International Union.
According to Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who has sharply criticized Starbucks’ efforts to impede the drive, about 83% of the votes to date have gone in the union’s favor.
That compares with a union success rate of 70% across all industries.
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