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Employees at three Somerville cafes approve union contract, among first in Mass.

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

Workers at three Somerville cafes ratified a union contract with their shared management team Sunday, cementing the group as one of the first coffeehouse chains in the state to reach an agreement.

Around 60 baristas and back-of-house employees at Diesel Café, Bloc Café, and Forge Baking Company voted to enact a contract that includes a 95-cent raise within the next 30 days, as well as 25- to 35-cent raises twice a year. That bumps hourly wages to at least $15 for baristas, in addition to tips (which typically amount to between $8 and $12 an hour). Bakery and kitchen workers now make at least $20.25 an hour.

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The agreement — forged with the New England Joint Board UNITE HERE — also increases workers’ paid time off allowance to 8 hours for every year spent at the company and includes a clearer discipline policy. A number of measures that were in place before the union formed, like health insurance, matching 401(k) contributions, paid breaks, and a $21 daily meal allowance, remain.

Diesel Café shift runner Chris Duncan said the contract puts employees and management on the same page at the Davis Square institution, which is heralded for its espresso and hand-shaped bagels.

“It’s good to have something concrete that will hold everyone accountable and makes the standards of our workplace clear,” he said.

Gaelon Kolczynski, the cafe’s lead shift runner, added that the union has forged “a sense of camaraderie” among employees, even though the contract falls slightly short of what he had hoped.

“It’s not the most ideal plan, but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “It should be expected for places to unionize now and ask for better wages and working conditions.”

Owners Jennifer Park and Tucker Lewis also lauded the vote Tuesday in a letter to customers.

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When employees first organized, “we had little knowledge of what a union was or what it might mean for our business. All we knew, as progressive liberals, was that unions were good,” the letter reads. Now, “we are proud to announce that Diesel, Bloc, and Forge have signed its first Union Contract.”

The announcement makes the Diesel/Bloc/Forge UNITED a leader in the unionization movement that has swept coffee shops across the country. At least six independently owned Massachusetts chains organized in 2021 and 2022, but just two, including Diesel, have finished contract negotiations.

Last August, workers at eight Pavement Coffeehouse locations became the first to ratify a coffeehouse union contract in New England. Negotiations are also underway at hundreds of Starbucks locations nationwide and at a Trader Joe’s store in Hadley.


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