scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Workers at three Somerville cafes are planning to unionize

Diesel Cafe in Somerville's Davis Square.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Employees at three Somerville coffee houses joined a growing labor movement among Greater Boston cafes Monday by taking steps to unionize.

An 11-member organizing committee representing Diesel Café, Bloc Café, and Forge Baking Company penned a letter to their shared management team requesting them to voluntarily recognize the union and participate in good faith contract negotiations. The workers would be represented by the New England Joint Board UNITE HERE.

“Side by side with you, we have worked tirelessly over the past year to keep our cafes afloat amidst the seismic changes wrought by the pandemic,” the employees wrote to owners Tucker Lewis and Jennifer Park and chief operating officer Court Verhaalen. “Looking to the future, we urge you to see that unionization is our company’s best option and greatest hope to achieve sustainability, establish stability, and engage our entire community with care and compassion.”

Advertisement



William Lambert, a front-of-house manager at Forge, said that the letter was preceded by months of private conversations among the roughly 50 employees the committee represents. An “overwhelming majority” believe there needs to be a change in the way coffee shop workers organize, he added.

“It’s been hard for everyone who has worked in a cafe through COVID, on the ground, coming in every day,” Lambert said. “I think we were all mutually recognizing that ... we’d like to change the way we advocate for ourselves at work.”

Caleb Schwartz, a Forge employee for just three months, said he would like to see “a more democratic workplace.”

Mitchell Fallon, the communications and political director for the New England Joint Board, said the organizing committee has already begun collecting union authorization cards from the employees, who named the effort DBF UNITED. It also has yet to clarify its bargaining conditions.

”Now that we’re entering this new stage where things are going public, there’s a lot more space to have everyone come together to figure out what they would like to bargain over,” he said.

Advertisement



Either way, “the union is with the workers,” Fallon added.

Lewis and Park did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The owners told GBH in an e-mail that they are doing their “best to dive in and learn the process and terminology as quickly as possible,” and are “committed to making our workplace the best place it can be for our staff.”

The DBF UNITED effort is inspired by a wave of recent unionization efforts at nearby shops. Workers at Pavement Coffeehouse, an independent coffee chain with eight locations in Boston and Cambridge, launched a successful campaign to unionize in June. Cambridge cafe Darwin’s and its four locations did the same three months later.

Senator Ed Markey supported the group’s effort on Twitter Monday afternoon. “I am very proud of the workers of Diesel, Bloc, and Forge in Somerville who are organizing a union and would like to extend a message of solidarity for their efforts. Every worker deserves the protection, benefits, and power that comes with being a union member.”


Diti Kohli can be reached at diti.kohli@globe.com.Follow her @ditikohli_.