Good Karma Cafe workers will vote to form a union


For years, coffeehouse workers have led the charge in organizing Philadelphia’s restaurant industry, a sector largely free of unions. Baristas at a small Philadelphia coffeehouse chain are about to take the effort further than many of their colleagues have done before.

Good Karma Cafe workers will vote on March 31 on whether to form a union, following a petition they filed with the National Labor Relations Board last month. Shawn Nesbit, the president of Good Karma, had conversations with employees at his four cafes, all of which are downtown. He waived a formal hearing, laying the groundwork for 25 Good Karma workers to vote on union representation with Workers United. (Managers don’t have the right to vote.) If a majority of workers vote to unionize, the next step — after resolving disputes or disputes — is to negotiate a contract.

Good Karma’s election follows Starbucks workers’ vote to unionize stores in Buffalo, New York, and Mesa, Arizona, this winter. (More than 100 Starbucks stores have since filed petitions to unionize, including four Philadelphia stores; seven have already voted.) Old City Coffee employees also filed a petition with the NLRB earlier this month. Meanwhile, bagel vendors at Korshak Bagels in South Philly, which quietly got union recognition this summernegotiate their first contract.

In a letter to Nesbit, Good Karma employees said they wanted to raise their wages to $15 an hour. Baristas start at $11 an hour, with room for promotions; tipping increases this rate but can be inconsistent during slow winter months or COVID-19 surges.

Nineteen workers signed the letter, which also expressed a desire to have a greater voice in decision-making within the cafes. “One of our beliefs as a company is to benefit all of our stakeholders,” it read. “[A]s those who show up every day to prepare drinks, food and create positive experiences for customers, we are among the biggest stakeholders, but we have the least say in the policies that affect us the more.

“I understand that happy employees make happy customers and I continue to collaborate and communicate with my staff,” Nesbit said in a statement. “As a company, we will continue to serve our community in accordance with our guiding principle of providing an exceptional Good Karma experience for all stakeholders,” including employees.

In an interview, Good Karma baristas Suvi Williams and Emileigh Ebersole said workers are also asking for paid time off, free shift meals, clear deadlines for equipment repairs, a more structured training system, and better communication with the property.

Good Karma workers had discussed the idea of ​​a union last year, but took it seriously in 2022. They began by gauging the interest of workers at each outpost. As many as 80% of workers expressed support, Williams said.

“Even people who might have felt uncertain or needed more information, they were still like, ‘Yeah, I can understand where this is coming from,'” Ebersole said.

The workers presented their letter to Nesbit late last month, giving him 48 hours to respond in writing, after which they filed their petition with the NLRB. “It was, I think, probably a little tense from there,” Williams said.

Still, Ebersole said many Good Karma employees have since spoken with Nesbit. “I told him that our intention to unionize did not stem from any kind of ill will or malice towards Good Karma, and that we hope he actually sees this as we love the company and just want to see it s improve and be the best you can be.

Williams and Ebersole are both full-time employees at Good Karma, where they have worked for a year and a half and two and a half, respectively. They present their efforts to organize the cafes as a sign of their commitment to the company and their craft, rather than an attack on the management or culture of the store.

“If you really want to be a barista…I think you should be fine,” Williams said. She left Starbucks to work at Good Karma, which she first enjoyed as a patron.

“It really seemed like a really great environment to work in. And I still stick to that,” she said, citing close relationships with colleagues and regulars. “I think ultimately , we just felt ignored and not really respected for the work we were doing.”

“It would have been easy to leave, but at least for me it wasn’t about the salary,” she said. “I wanted to make Good Karma a better place.”


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