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New Colectivo workers union delivers petition to owners in hopes of getting to negotiations

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Teran Powell
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Colectivo Coffee workers and their supporters rally outside the shop's headquarters to demand owners negotiate with them.

Employees of Milwaukee-based Colectivo Coffee are still waiting for Colectivo management to bargain with them, following the employees’ vote to unionize last August.

Workers organized as the “Colectivo Collective.” They’re represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, or IBEW.

Colectivo workers say management has stalled bargaining efforts. They point to the company’s multiple appeals to the National Labor Relations Board, which question the vote's validity to form a union. The workers also accuse Colectivo of signing a contract with a union-busting organization.

In an open letter to customers in August, management expressed disappointment in the vote but promised to “respect the rules and bargain in good faith.”

Wednesday, outside the Colectivo Coffee headquarters on North Humboldt Boulevard in Milwaukee, Colectivo employees and a few dozen supporters gathered. They wanted to urge management to join them in bargaining discussions.

Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson was there. So were the Milwaukee Area Labor Council and the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO presidents, and members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

IBEW business manager Dean Warsh said Colectivo owners have used every opportunity to delay the recognition of the union. He said most recently, the owners asked the National Labor Relations Board in Washington to review, again, the Milwaukee NLRB's decision to overrule their objection to the election.

"The irony of all this is the name ‘Colectivo’ in its English translation. As a noun it means collective or group. As an adjective, union. We are here today to present the latest petition to the ownership, containing nearly 2,200 signatures asking them to sit down at the bargaining table with their employees."

Pam Fendt, president of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, was one of the event speakers who shared words of encouragement with Colectivo workers. She said she’s happy to stand in solidarity with them.

"The Colectivo Collective won their election in August of last year. It is a very bad response from management that they still have not started the bargaining process. Colectivo management has been filing appeals to the NLRB that have no merit. It is clear they are only seeking to stall the certification process. Their employees have spoken."

Fendt said it’s past time for management to come to the table. She added that from her experience in a union, she believes that owners and workers can come to agreement that works for both sides.

Kait Dessoffy said it’s ridiculous that after workers won the election to unionize in August, owners still haven’t sat down with them. Dessoffy works at the Colectivo in Andersonville, a neighborhood in Chicago.

"Nationwide, there is so much momentum for unions right now. And in our stores, there's so much momentum. And in our communities, there's so much momentum. So, Colectivo management, if you are listening, please come to the bargaining table. Bargain with your workers. We won our election."

After the speakers concluded, workers walked inside the store with the intention to hand deliver a petition to owners, signed by workers, members of the public and politicians. But they were intercepted by the vice president of marketing who said that owners were in a meeting and could not see them.

Ryan Coffel, who also works at Colectivo in Chicago, had this reaction.

"As a Colectivo co-worker, I was told that they have an open door policy always, and any time that we need to speak with them that they are available for us. But it seems like today they’re just unavailable, which is a bit disappointing."

Coffel said he hopes Colectivo owners look at all the signatures workers delivered and keep their word to bargain in good faith.

In a statement to WUWM following Wednesday's press conference, Colectivo owners said the National Labor Relations Board is still reviewing the voting process conducted in this case. Therefore, the process of unionizing is not yet complete. They say upon official certification of the vote by the NLRB, they will enter into the bargaining process in good faith.

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