Workers at Ithaca Coffee Company Charge Owners with Labor Law Violations

(Ithaca) On April 17, 2019, non-managerial workers at Ithaca Coffee Company (ICC) informed the ICC owner Julie Crowley (who also owns Triphammer Wine and Spirits), of their intentions to form a union. Workers reminded the owner of their legal obligation to abide by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)and enforced by the National Labor Relations Board. Additionally, workers requested that management observe voluntary Non-Interference Election Principles.

ICCs management immediately resorted to threatening workers with retaliation, including the threat to close store locations if employees voted to join a union. Pervasive intimidation discouraging employees from discussing terms and conditions of employment with pro-union workers has created an atmosphere of chilling fear in the workplace.

Today, May 10th, the union – Workers United – filed an Unfair Labor Practice with the NLRB.  The union is charging the employer with interfering with, restraining, and coercing ICC workers in the exercise of their rights to form a union.

The workers’ goal in organizing a union was to negotiate a contract with management that would, among other things, provide for:

·         A ‘just cause’ clause to protect workers from unfair discipline. Currently workers, as in any non-unionized workplace, are considered at-will and can be terminated for any reason (or no reason);

·         Fair wages. Workers start at minimum wage with not much room for raises or growth within the company, leading to a high turnover rate;

·         to have the voices of those within the ‘bargaining unit’ heard. Workers feel as if they have no little or no voice in the company, and that needs to change.

Ana Ottoson, one of the ICC Organizing Committee Members, says: “I have been struggling since I was hired with paying all my bills, due to the ridiculously low wages; having had a union contract would’ve helped to ensure regular raises and incentivize the entire staff to stay longer. In addition, I have been struggling with a changing schedule on a weekly basis making me unable to get a second job to make ends meet. Having a union contract will make me feel more secure in my job, in my financial life, and more able to offer a good experience to our customers since I won’t be stressing about my bills or job security.”

Says Brenden Lukosavich, another ICC Organizing Committee Member: “Our management knows that a majority of workers would support joining a union if we weren’t being threatened over doing so. The management threatened us, and now we have to ask the federal government to hold them accountable. However, even more important is how ICC’s customers and this community will hold them accountable.”

Ava Maillouix, a leader of the Gimme! Coffee Baristas bargaining unit within Workers United Local 2833, the members of which aspire to expand union protections throughout the regional hospitality industry, had this to say: “The Gimme Barista’s Union is in solidarity with ICC workers and all workers worldwide. As is often said in union circles, an injury to one is an injury to all. In this time of wage stagnation and increasing economic polarization, the fight against inequality must begin in our own communities. Everyone deserves a living wage, protection under just cause, and freedom from fear of retaliation and threats. When we unionize and stand in solidarity with each other, we raise the standard of living for workers throughout the county. Happy, healthy workers make for a stronger community. I hope these local business owners find their way past bullying and intimidation to addressing the root causes of dissatisfaction among their employees and making meaningful changes. “

Pete Meyers, the Coordinator of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center said: “All employers must respect the workers’ legally protected right to organize. This company DID NOT, and they must see there is a consequence for their union-busting. Threatening workers for organizing a union is reprehensible and a violation of the worker’s civil rights.”

In 2010, group of employees at ICC sought to organize a union and faced similar managerial threats
. According to Pete Meyers, “this now shows up as a union-busting pattern by ICC management, which is unacceptable in Ithaca… or anywhere in the US.”

Gary Bonadonna, Manager of Workers United, Rochester Regional Joint Board, observed, “Our partnership with the TCWC is built around protecting the right of workers in this county to organize a union free of fear and intimidation. Clearly based on huge dissatisfaction of workers we have spoken with, if ICC did not threaten its workers, a union would most likely have gotten voted in.”