Coffee and tea have a multitude of tasting notes and preparation styles, but all drinks coming from the north Davis Peet’s Coffee & Tea now have one flavor in common: Union.
The store is the first of Peet’s 336 nationwide locations to unionize, becoming the birthplace of Peet’s Workers United after staff voted 14-1 to join SEIU Local 1021 on Jan. 20. The process took around six months.
To celebrate workers making history, dozens of community members joined Peet’s baristas and three dancing pig statues at a rally in front of the coffee shop Saturday morning.
“If we’re going to drink any more coffee, it’s going to be union coffee,” said Brandon Dawkins, SEIU Local 1021’s vice president of organizing, at Saturday’s rally.
Peet’s is one of the state's largest coffee shop chains, second only to Starbucks — whose California employees have started unions at several locations over the last year.
“Unionizing for us was about having our voices heard,” Peet’s barista Molly Smith, who works at the north Davis location, told CapRadio ahead of the rally. “It’s about transparency from the company and making sure that the worker-to-company relationship has a democratic process within it. It’s about more power to the working people.”
Peet’s barista Molly Smith holds up a sign after speaking at a union rally on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023 in Davis, Calif.Kevin Gomez Jr.
Now that baristas have unionized, they’ll draft demands to bring to collective bargaining in hopes of securing their first contract. In the meantime, workers say they’re hoping to secure better training, higher wages and more health and safety protections.
“While we had hoped for another outcome, we respect the right of our Davis employees to choose,” a Peet’s spokesperson said in an emailed statement to CapRadio. “As we follow the legally required next steps with the union at North Davis, we will continue to work for and with our employees [company-wide].”
While the north Davis Peet’s is the first of the chain’s 336 nationwide locations to unionize, and more could follow — other Peet’s locations have already reached out to SEIU Local 1021, of which Peet’s Workers United is a member, with interest. The unionization is part of a growing wave of food service workers organizing in response to inflation, health and safety concerns brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the growing wealth gap between employees and corporation leaders.
Fourteen-year Davis resident Alan Hirsch, 68, is a regular at the newly unionized Peet’s and said on Saturday that “Davis is getting its mojo back.”
“It is amazing to see everyone turn out and the elected officials turn out for a grassroots change in the way we need to deal with corporations, with large corporations,” he said. “Workers need to push back and unions are … the essential tool for justice in the workplace.”
Young people lead coffee shop unionization effort
Peet’s had its first location open in Berkeley in 1966, and the workers driving its unionization reflects a broader trend of coffee shop organizing driven by young adults.
“It's incredible to see union workers that are primarily under 25 years of age, being able to organize the first Peet’s union coffee shop in the whole entire nation,” said Angel Barajas, Yolo County District 5 supervisor, at the rally. “We know it's difficult to do that.”
Davis is a college town, but becoming the birthplace of Peet’s Workers United also builds its reputation as a union one — UC Davis workers carrying UAW signs while marching around the college campus became a familiar sight during the last few months of 2022. Some also came to the rally Saturday to show solidarity, like UAW 2865 member Tova Valentine.
“I’m very pro-union, because everyone deserves working wages, more working rights,” he said. “I just think it’s very important to promote solidarity and community and this is something small, [to] just show up and help them organize as they need.”
UAW 2865 member Willa Gibson was another of the formerly striking workers to appear in solidarity at Saturday's rally.Kevin Gomez Jr.
Many of the workers at the North Davis location are college students, like Smith, who studies at UC Davis full-time.
“[This is] my first time organizing, really, anything like this,” they said.
Smith said that along with low wages, baristas are often asked to do “too much for one person … sufficiently and up to their standards.”
Higher wages are also an organizing point for shift lead Ravid Tal. The 19-year-old studies at Sacramento State and said he started working at Peet’s both because of its “dedication to craft coffee,” along with a need for the money. During the rally, Tal said receiving a 10-cent raise in March 2021 was grounds to consider unionization.
“I make $17.85 [an hour], which is a lot more than most of my coworkers,” he said. “I know if I’m having to pick up these shifts to cover rent, they’re struggling too. We shouldn’t have to spend our limited free time out of school and work recovering mentally and physically from a job that takes more than it gives back.”
Barista Trinity Salazar, a fourth-year UC Davis student, who similarly wants the union to demand higher wages, said they’re tired of corporations using tips as an excuse for not providing a living wage.
“That’s not the consumer’s responsibility, it’s the corporation’s responsibility,” they said.
They’re also hoping to see Peet’s take more responsibility for its workers’ health, setting a precedent for how coffee shops take care of their workers. Salazar joined Peet’s last summer, but they’ve also worked in coffee for over three years and said the work — “you’re bending over, you’re getting milk, you’re talking to someone, you’re doing a mobile order while talking to a customer, while making a drink” — has resulted in constant lower back pain.
“Every couple of months, my back gets really bad, and that’s unsolvable,” Salazar said. “I don’t want anyone at 21 years old to have to worry about that. There should be more regulation, there should be better training [for lifting and avoiding injury].”
“I’m a human being. I deserve to be looked after.”
Peet’s unionization reflects a broader interest in labor organizing since pandemic
Over the past decade, around 10% of workers across all industries have been part of a union — much lower than the peak in 1954, during which almost 35% of wage-earning workers were unionized.
Ken Jacobs, the chair of UC Berkeley’s Labor Center, said organized labor in California started to decline in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This came in response to a variety of factors: the loss of manufacturing jobs, an increased employer role in stopping workers from organizing and growth in the anti-union consultant industry.
“We have had a steady erosion in the share of workers in unions in California … the total share of workers in unions is a little bit more steady in the last few decades, but again, that masks a decline in private sector workers who are in unions,” Jacobs said.
That’s what’s made the recent uptick in both public support for and worker interest in organizing unions interesting, he added. A Gallup poll from 2022 found over 70% of Americans approved of labor unions, the highest percentage since 1965.
A community member holds up a chant sheet for the Peet's Coffee union rally on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023.Kevin Gomez Jr.
With the ongoing pandemic increasing health risks for workers in high-contact industries from healthcare to transportation and food service, labor historian and Sacramento State professor Maria Quintana said it’s unsurprising that workers are turning to unions to have a voice.
“Workers found that the ball is now in their court as their labor is in high demand and not easy to replace,” she said. “We see soaring company profits, and those profits aren’t trickling down to workers … It’s not that there’s a shortage of people willing to work today, but that there is a shortage of safe, good-paying and sustainable jobs.”
Despite the food industry — specifically meatpacking plants in the early 1900s — being a site of early unionization in the United States, food service workers have remained among the lowest percentage of unionized workers, with the Pew Research Center reporting just over 1% of employees in the industry were unionized on average in 2020.
But Quintana says she sees the possibility of change.
“If what we see happening right now follows in the footsteps of, for example, these food industry workers [like] the United Packinghouse Workers of America, we can start to see a rise in the wage of these workers as they bargain for equal treatment as well,” she said.
She highlighted organizing efforts across Chipotle, Trader Joe’s, Starbucks — and now Peet’s — as showing “what food unions are capable of” and “clearing the way for fights to come.” One such fight will be decided by California voters during the 2024 election, as they could vote to create a state-run council to set wage and labor standards for state fast food workers.
Though the North Davis Peet’s may have been the birthplace of Peet’s Workers United, it wasn’t the first time unionization was broached in the chain. Workers at a Chicago Peet’s walked out in 2021 in protest of their working conditions.
While those protests didn’t lead to unionization, 2021 still became a historic year for coffee shop organizing: 14 Starbucks stores held union votes, starting in August, and the Elmwood Avenue location in Buffalo, NY, became the first successfully union Starbucks since the 1980s.
Baristas at the north Davis Peet’s leaned heavily on Starbucks Workers United organizers for support. While workers initially considered organizing with the International Workers of the World, they elected for SEIU for the chance to work more closely with SBWU.
Next steps: Community support, collective bargaining and future organizing
At the rally and in interviews with CapRadio, baristas noted that winning the election to unionize was only the first step. They’ll then formalize demands and meet Peet’s to collectively bargain for a contract, which can be a lengthy process: Starbucks Workers United still doesn’t have a contract with Starbucks, despite beginning unionization at the end of 2021.
In the meantime, the union has asked supporters to order coffee under the name “Peet’s Union Yes” or “Peet’s Union Strong” to show solidarity.
“Going into anything new is nerve-wracking, especially if you’re the first,” said Salazar, the long-time barista. “I want to make sure everyone has a say. Just because we’re unionized doesn’t mean it’s over.”
Salazar, Smith and barista Alyx Land, who’s been with Peet’s since 2017 and transferred to the north Davis location two and a half years ago, say they’ve seen management react negatively to the union petition going public.
Peet's Coffee Barista Alyx Land speaks at a union rally in Davis on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023.Kevin Gomez Jr.
Land says he hasn’t been happy with Peet’s response to the unionization.
“We had corporate people coming into the store all the time, having 1-on-1 conversations with people talking about how unions are going to make everything bad and different,” they said. “All of the policies have been completely tightened up, like we're starting to sign documents about all the Peet’s policies that they haven't even really enforced before.”
And it’s impacted the community atmosphere the baristas aim to foster in their store. Decorations, the baristas said, came down last week, and management has been discussing getting rid of a store staple: plants that have been growing for over two years, nestled in reused Peet’s Coffee tea tins.
“I don't know how to see that other than punishment for unionizing, you know? Moving forward, I really want everyone to be watching Peet’s and how they respond to this,” Land said.
Of the policy changes, a Peet’s spokesperson said that through the unionization process, “we saw and heard that some of our stores were not living up to our standards.”
“Across all of our coffeebars, we are taking steps to get back to some of the basic things associated with a great coffee experience, and that includes following policy on store and personal appearance and operating hours,” a company spokesperson told CapRadio.
Those include wanting stores to be “neat and clean,” expecting employees to be respectful to customers and having “consistency in signage, decor and presentation across the company.”
The exterior of the north Davis Peet's, as seen on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023.Kevin Gomez Jr.
Jacobs with the Labor Center at UC Berkeley said it’s common for company management to dissuade unionizing through a variety of efforts.
Those can include delaying union votes and contract negotiations, making statements like “If you are organized, there’s no guarantee you will get better wages” or “We don’t need a third party coming in and… getting between the employees and the business” and in some cases, illegally firing union leaders under some other excuse.
Such practices can result in unfair labor practice charges against a company.
Starbucks Workers United has filed over 325 unfair labor practice charges against Starbucks; though the National Labor Relations Board is investigating 35 formal complaints against the company, it denies any wrongdoing.
“The evidence here is very strong that workers who are in unions have greater power, are more likely to have decent health benefits and more likely to have retirement benefits,” he said. “A union is its membership, it isn’t a third party — it’s the workers, who joined together collectively, to bargain collectively with their owner.”
Workers at other Peet’s have also begun to approach SEIU Local 1021 about organizing, the union said, noting locations in the Sacramento, Berkeley and Oakland areas as showing interest.
In December, the downtown Davis Peet’s also filed a petition for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board, but ended up withdrawing a week before the vote. Peet’s provided a $500 taxable bonus to downtown Davis workers after they withdrew their petition “to recognize the extra time those employees had invested leading up to and during the petition process,” the company said via email.
SEIU Local 1021 added that the location looks to try again in six months, on June 13, the minimum time to wait after withdrawing a petition.