Amid the rise of unions in the Bay Area, as Starbucks shops strike in Santa Cruz and unionize in San Francisco, it can be easy to forget one of the most famous bakeries in the region unionized in 2020. Tartine Bakery, recently accused of super gentrification, officially voted in the Tartine Union more than two years ago, and, beginning in May 2022, began negotiations over what would be the union’s first contract. The initial contract will last for five years once ratified. But according to union members and workers at the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 6, conversations at the bargaining table have reached an impasse over two key issues.
For as long as staff can remember, Tartine workers haven’t had to pay for health care. But workers and organizers now say the company wants staff to begin making contributions. The company’s proposal would see workers cover half of any annual increases over seven percent; if health insurance costs increase by 10 percent, for example, workers would be responsible for covering 1.5 percent of the total cost. The other biggest sticking point is wages; the unions want guaranteed wage increases whereas the company prefers a merits-based approach.
While Tartine and representatives initially agreed to comment on this story, the company did not respond to repeated requests for comment or interviews before publication.
Jason “JJ” James, a bread baker for the company, says winning this contract is make-or-break. “I’d like better benefits, regarding our health,” he says. James has been involved with the union since shortly after joining the company in December 2021. He was drawn to the company for its big name and commitment to quality and didn’t even know there was a union until hearing about it on a podcast before starting the job.
ILWU Organizing Director Ryan Dowling, who also spoke with Eater SF at length regarding Dandelion Chocolate and its union (or lack thereof), says the bakery is amenable to other proposals. For instance, both sides agree on issues including workers’ rights to complain and human resources protocol — the company is also on board for certain 401k and paid-time-off proposals. (Agreements around holiday time-off and inflation-based cost of living increases are still on the outs though, Dowling says.)
Regarding the raises, rather than a scaffolded, projected raises calendar, the bakery hopes to keep a “merit-based” model, ILWU reps say. And when it comes to health care, Tartine — who has paid for and encouraged employees to enroll in San Francisco’s My City Option (SFMRA) in the past — isn’t accounting for how small fees can compound for workers, the ILWU says. “In all their years of operation they’ve never had staff pay for health insurance,” Dowling says. “They’re knowingly passing costs to workers.” Evan McLaughlin, the ILWU representative for Northern California, doubles down on the raise issue, saying the company’s current proposal includes zero guarantees of wage increases for the entire five-year contract. “Long-term planning in life relies on these kinds of projections, whereas merit-based raises are great on top of that,” McLaughlin says.
On September 6 the ILWU and the company will go back into negotiations. A demonstration and rally are planned following the bargaining. The “supporter day” will run on Sunday, September 4 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Tartine Manufactory. Supporters and customers are invited to join and buy union-made goods. For now, no strikes or boycotts have been declared.
James says the bread team specifically is tight-knit and pro-union, but he knows employees in other parts of the company who aren’t sure what the union or the contract would materially provide them. “Outside of the bread room, I know there is some apprehension,” James says. For his part, he says he feels cost of living increases and raises are critical for both his line of work and for living in San Francisco. “Overall, a living wage is an important realization for anyone working anywhere,” he says.
Update, August 31, 9:27 a.m.: This story has been updated to clarify the union negotiation is not in a formal impasse but rather the common meaning of the term.