Early yesterday morning, Bay Area employees of Tartine Bakery — the world-famous bakery and rapidly expanding international brand — delivered letters to management to formally declare their intention to unionize, as Mission Local and other local news outlets have reported. In the letter, signed by more than 140 Tartine employees, the workers say they are unionizing in hopes of attaining a fair balance of power between workers and management, as well as “quality benefits, high morale, and good wages.”
If the effort is successful, 200-plus Bay Area employees, spread across four locations in San Francisco and Berkeley, would join the local International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).
Here is a copy of the letter 141 of our fellow workers signed and delivered to management this morning. pic.twitter.com/9EhEW7gNH7— Tartine Union (@TartineUnion) February 6, 2020
It’s been a tumultuous few months for Tartine, which was founded in 2002 as a single bakery in the Mission that quickly became famous for its around-the-block lines. Its founders, Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt, have widely been hailed as pioneers in the past decade’s artisanal bread and pastry revolution in this country, and the past few years have seen the company launch iterations of its highly vaunted Tartine Manufactory bakery, cafe, and full-fledged restaurant, as well as expand to multiple locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Berkeley, and Seoul, South Korea.
Local bread aficionados may have been slightly scandalized, then, when Tartine’s iconic Mission bakery was briefly shuttered due to a rodent issue right before Thanksgiving. Then, this past December, the company’s practically-brand-new 40,000-square-foot Manufactory location in downtown Los Angeles abruptly, and rather shockingly, closed less than a year after it opened, laying off most of its staff less than two weeks before the holidays.
That LA shutdown certainly caught the attention of employees at Tartine’s Bay Area locations, who drew inspiration from Anchor Brewing’s successful bid to unionize last year and worried that the company was neglecting its workers in the midst of its expansion efforts — it now has 10 locations around the globe, including five in the Bay Area (including an SF location that’s already part of the airport workers union), four in Seoul, and one remaining in LA, with more in the works.
“We weren’t getting the attention we felt like we deserved because they were opening all these new locations, and it started feeling more corporate,” Pat Thomas, a server at Tartine Manufactory, told the labor publication In These Times. “The soul of the neighborhood bakery doesn’t exist as much anymore,” Manufactory barista Emily Haddad told the SF Chronicle. “It’s really losing its San Francisco homegrown vibe.”
Meanwhile, in comments to media, several Tartine workers expressed dissatisfaction with pay, benefits, and reduced hours. “You can take vacations, but you don’t get paid for them,” Fernando Hernandez, a busser at the Manufactory, told Mission Local. Also speaking to Mission Local, Matthew Torres, a barista at the Berkeley Tartine, said, “Within a week, we were given notice they’d cut our hours. I am working fewer hours and making less money than I ever have.”
Meanwhile, workers told the Chron that most Tartine employees only make minimum wage — a pay rate that forces them into second jobs and long commutes. “These are world-class bakers,” Mason Lopez, another barista at the Berkeley location, said to In These Times. “These bakers should be making at least $25 an hour, something that mirrors their experience and level of skill, and then you find out they’re making minimum wage and barely in the tip pool. Why?”
At around 6 p.m. last night, a large crowd rallied in support of the unionization effort outside of the 24th and Mission BART station, in an event that the San Francisco chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America helped organize. Local politicians in attendance included CA-12 Congressional district candidate Shahid Buttar, currently running to unseat Nancy Pelosi, and District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, who told KTVU, “In an era of attacks on the rights of workers, unionizing efforts like this give so much hope.”
The crowd out at 24th St & Mission tonight to support the new @TartineUnion is massive, diverse, and hyped!— Shahid Buttar for Congress (@ShahidForChange) February 7, 2020
It’s great to see Supervisor @DeanPreston here alongside all the @DSA_SF organizers who’ve been helping workers unionize across the city. #SolidarityForever pic.twitter.com/fKHHf2MNcN
When asked for comment, Tartine management sent Eater SF only a brief statement through its spokesperson, Caryl Chinn:
This morning, we received a copy of a letter that was sent to the managers at Tartine Bakery’s four Bay Area locations. The letter states that many employees wish to be represented by the International Longshore Workers Union. This request is extremely important and deserves a thoughtful and thorough answer.
As there are several stakeholders (owners) in Tartine Bakery, we are required to consult with them on important operational matters like this. Given the importance of this matter to everyone, the leadership team is meeting as soon as possible and plan to respond to the letter more formally by Monday.
If Tartine management winds up declining to immediately recognize the union, the workers will file a request for an election with the National Labor Relations Board — perhaps as early as today, they tell Mission Local — and employees at each of the four Tartine locations will hold an election to vote on whether to join the union.