Customers looking to buy a morning bun or a loaf of sourdough from Tartine Bakery’s original 600 Guerrero Street storefront in the Mission this morning may have been disappointed to find the bakery closed for the day — a disruption of the bakery’s usual business schedule that pro-union organizers at Tartine are calling a day of “mandatory anti-union meetings.”
This latest development comes about a month after news first broke that 141 workers at four locations of the iconic bakery — in the Inner Sunset, in Berkeley, and two in the Mission — had signed a letter declaring their intent to join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in hopes of getting better pay and a fairer balance of power between workers and management.
At the time, Tartine declined to immediately recognize the union, instead asking employees to hold a formal vote on the matter. And today, the SF Chronicle reports that the company has spent the subsequent weeks scheduling meetings between employees and outside consultants — meetings the company claims to be strictly informative, but that at least one pro-union worker characterized as “fear mongering” and a way to make employees feel like they’ll be punished for unionizing.
In order to hold those meetings, the Alabama Street Tartine Manufactory location closed its doors yesterday, and the original Mission Tartine Bakery was closed today. Tartine representatives did not respond to Eater SF’s inquiry about when the bakery would reopen, but a tipster confirmed that the Guerrero Street bakery was closed as of 9 a.m. this morning, and that someone with the union was passing out flyers attributing the closure to “mandatory anti-union meetings.”
Tartine co-founder Elisabeth Prueitt, for her part, tells the Chronicle that while she’s supportive of unions in other cases, she’d like to keep Tartine union-free. It’s perhaps the first time the company has publicly stated its opposition to the unionization effort outright, though many of its past statements, along with its hiring of a controversial crisis communications expert to help handle PR, have also struck a cautionary note.
In response to Eater SF’s request for further comment, a Tartine representative sent a lengthy statement from founders Prueitt and Chad Robertson elaborating on their desire to keep Tartine a “union-free workplace.” Chief among those reasons is that, in their view, Tartine already pays competitive wages and has no “under-paid or otherwise exploited workers” — a point that contradicts what pro-union workers have told the press. (One barista, for instance, told the labor publication 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?”)
“There had never been a time where a group came to us and said ‘there’s a serious grievance we have, and we need to talk about fixing it or we feel like we have no other choice but to unionize.’ Nothing even close,” Tartine’s founders said in the statement. Instead, they attribute the union push to the machinations of a “professional union organizer,” whom they say joined the company only three months ago.
Prueitt and Robertson also said that comparing Tartine to large corporations — as some workers have, in explaining why they feel they need union protections — is “like comparing apples to golf balls,” arguing that because the company’s locations in Los Angeles and Korea were funded by outside investors, the expansion doesn’t reflect the profitability of Tartine’s Bay Area locations. “It’s entirely understandable why our employees might think there’s a pot of gold at the end of the Tartine rainbow, but it’s simply not the case,” they said in the statement.
You can read Tartine’s statement in its entirety below. In the meantime, the company’s workers are slated to vote officially on whether to join the union next week.
Update: March 4, 6:15 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect a clarification, sent by a Tartine representative, that the statement against unionization came from both of the company’s founders, not just co-founder Elisabeth Prueitt.
- Bay Area Tartine Bakery Workers Accuse Owners of Union-Busting [SFC]