There wasn’t time for any kind of victory celebration after workers at Tartine Bakery’s Berkeley location voted unanimously to join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) — nor for the workers at the company’s four San Francisco locations who voted narrowly in favor of joining the union a day earlier (though the results of that election are still being disputed). Just days later, the region-wide shelter-in-place order spurred mass layoffs within the Bay Area restaurant industry, including at Tartine, seeming to render the issue of unionization moot.
But Agustin Ramirez, the ILWU’s lead organizer for Northern California, stresses that the COVID-19 crisis, and the layoffs it spurred across the iconic bakery’s five Bay Area locations, doesn’t negate the fact that the workers at the Berkeley Tartine are now officially a part of the union — along with its San Francisco workers, if the litigation over the disputed election goes the way the union hopes. And so, Ramirez tells Eater SF, the union is currently working on “negotiating the effects of the layoffs” with Tartine management.
For now that negotiation comes in the form of an “open letter” that the union sent to Tartine founders Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt and chief operating officer Chris Jordan, and published online as a Change.org petition. As the SF Chronicle first reported, among other demands, the letter asks that the company “recall all laid off Tartine SF & Berkeley workers once restaurants are allowed to be back in operation.”
The letter continues:
Most Tartine workers have now been officially laid off. In the communications we have received from management, we have received no indication that we will have jobs once Tartine locations reopen. Workers thus far have been informed that we may reapply for jobs through the Tartine website when they are posted. This adds a huge amount of stress onto an already stressful situation.
Of course, whenever the COVID-19 crisis ends and restaurants finally reopen their dining rooms, it’ll almost certainly be some time before businesses are able to return to their pre-shutdown staffing capacity. Ramirez acknowledges that this is likely to be the case for Tartine, as well. What the union proposes, then, is for Tartine to create a “recall list” of all the workers who were employed at the company prior to the layoffs — and that it would commit to hiring off that list, in order of seniority, as the company staffs up again, before attempting to hire anyone new. The list, if honored, would be in effect for one year.
The petition also calls for Tartine to apply for a federal CARES Act loan in order to extend employee benefits for four months and to offer two additional weeks of paid sick leave.
While union doesn’t have hard numbers, Ramirez says all 18 workers at Tartine’s Berkeley location (which is temporarily closed) were laid off. Matthew Torres, a barista who was laid off from the Berkeley Tartine and one of the workers who led the unionization effort, tells Eater SF that he believes the company also laid off at least 75 to 80 percent of the workforce at its San Francisco locations. Given how contentious the unionization process was, the petition is in part intended to offer some protection to workers who were vocal in their support of the union, Torres says: “We don’t want to end up in a situation where people who are pro-union are not hired back” — though Torres stresses that Tartine management hasn’t given any indication that this will be a consideration.
A spokesperson for Tartine declined to comment on exact layoff numbers, but the company did issue a statement saying that Tartine is “in an incredibly vulnerable position, having to rethink [its] entire model on a daily basis to stay afloat.” “We dream of the days when we are able to hire staff back and hopefully we will be given this opportunity. In these dark times it is hard to see the forest through the trees,” the statement reads. It does not directly address the union petition’s specific demands.
You can read Tartine’s statement in full below:
Over the last 6 weeks we have had to lay off most of our staff due to this pandemic. We remain open in order to continue to provide some employment and to feed our communities. It has been the saddest and darkest time in Tartine’s 20+ year history. Our employees that have volunteered to work are making an incredible sacrifice and are providing a heroic service at this time. COVID19 will bankrupt many small businesses. We at Tartine are in an incredibly vulnerable position, having to rethink our entire model on a daily basis to stay afloat.
Sadly we have felt that your organization has not been on Tartine’s side for a while now. Writing underserved and un-fact checked negative press further damages the livelihoods dependent on restaurants as well as your credibility in the industry. Reporting on how this virus is effecting farmers and small businesses while telling their stories should be the focus for journalists like Eater. [Ed. note: Eater SF contacted to Tartine to inquire about what factual errors there were in its reporting; as of publication time, Tartine has not responded.]
We don’t know what the future holds as we are literally living day to day. We dream of the days when we are able to hire staff back and hopefully we will be given this opportunity. In these dark times it is hard to see the forest through the trees.
Update: April 8, 2020, 2:10 p.m.: This article was updated to include additional information from a Tartine worker and a statement from Tartine management.
- Workers Laid Off From San Francisco’s Tartine Petition for Job Security [SFC]