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Pavement Coffeehouse workers are planning to unionize

Barista Tyler Farris mixed up a latte for a customer at Pavement Coffeehouse in 2010.
Barista Tyler Farris mixed up a latte for a customer at Pavement Coffeehouse in 2010.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Workers at Pavement Coffeehouse, an independent coffee chain with eight stores across Boston and Cambridge, are planning to unionize.

Employees sent a letter on Tuesday to Larry Margulies, the owner of the coffee shops, asking him to voluntarily recognize the union and participate in good faith contract negotiations with Pavement’s roughly 80 employees. Organizers said they have garnered majority support through union authorization cards. The workers would be represented by the New England Joint Board UNITE HERE.

If Margulies does not voluntarily recognize the union, the National Labor Relations Board can conduct a union election.

Emma Delaney, a supervisor at the company’s Allston location, said the movement to unionize had been “bubbling under the surface for a while” among Pavement’s employees. Concerns range from low wages to having little or no say in decisions that affect employees, including the lifting of coronavirus safety measures in shops.

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“There are issues we have with our management, but it comes down to the larger issue: Food service workers have been exploited for too long,” Delaney said.

She added that although barista positions are often seen as “for-now jobs” filled by transient college students, many people are in the job for the long term. And she added that even people who are working in a profession for only a relatively brief time are deserving of union protections.

“A lot of people want to make careers in coffee and other types of food services,” she said. “There are a lot of college students, yes, but they are taking the money they are earning to put themselves through college and pay rent.”

Mitchell Fallon, the communications and political director for the New England Joint Board, said that if management does not decide to voluntarily recognize the union, the Pavement Coffee Organizing Committee will seek a union election through the NLRB.

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Margulies could not immediately be reached for comment. Fallon said the organizing team has not received a response from Pavement management regarding the union.

Members of the Pavement Coffee Organizing Committee are also asking that company does not “engage in any union busting activities.”

Steven Tolman, a former state senator who is now president of Massachusetts AFL-CIO, said he’s not surprised that workers at the coffee chain were able to garner majority support for the cause.

“Young people today are seeing the significant divide in wages and benefits,” he said. “They are seeing that there are limited opportunities, and a way to make things better is to form a union. I think we are going to see a lot more of this.”

The union effort quickly became a political topic on Tuesday, as Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu said in a statement that she supports the employees.

“The workers at Pavement coffee deserve better wages, comprehensive benefits, and a voice on the job,” said, Wu, who is also a candidate for mayor. “Cafe workers put in long, hard hours serving the public and they are vital to the fabric of our city.”


Anissa Gardizy can be reached at anissa.gardizy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8.