Workers at Tartine Bakery this morning delivered letters to management at four Bay Area locations, formally stating they plan to unionize. 

The letters were delivered at around 8 a.m. to the Tartine Bakery at Guerrero and 18th, the Manufactory at Alabama and Harrison, the Inner Sunset location at Ninth Avenue near Lincoln, and Tartine’s new Berkeley location. Some 215 employees work at these locations, and the letters delivered today bore the signatures of more than 140 of them. 

If Tartine doesn’t opt to recognize the union — few employers do so at this initial stage — its workers will file a Request for Certification petition with the National Labor Relations Board as soon as Friday. 

“I didn’t know anything about that,” said Chief Operating Officer Chris Jordan when reached by phone at shortly after 8 a.m.; he said he’d call back when he had more information. A message for founder Chad Robertson has not yet been returned. Communications director Caryl Chinn has also not yet returned a message.

Today’s letter delivery comes one year to the day after workers at Anchor Brewing submitted a similar letter to brewery management, and that’s no coincidence. Tartine workers, like those at Anchor, are working with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and organizers from the Democratic Socialists. 

A succession of Tartine workers described to Mission Local an increasingly strained workplace as the bakery founded in the Mission in 2002 by Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt in recent years rapidly expanded across the state and overseas. Tartine now has five locations in the Bay Area; four in Seoul, South Korea; and two more planned in Los Angeles. It abruptly shuttered its vast downtown Los Angeles manufactury in December, after less than a year in business, laying off scores of workers on the spot a week before Christmas. 

img-205182938-0001 by Joe Eskenazi on Scribd

This did not go unobserved by Northern California workers — who noticed both the heavy investment in an enterprise that rapidly failed, and the summary dismissal of many workers with no notice. A number of Bay Area Tartine employees told Mission Local that a union would give them a place at the table to discuss longstanding issues regarding pay, benefits, scheduling and equity between front-of-house and back-of-house workers. 

“I love my co-workers and I love the work we do, but I feel like management and their corporate push is making me not want to stay,” said Matthew Torres, a barista at the Berkeley location. “A lot of part-time people have lost their health coverage and cannot see their doctors anymore. At Berkeley, within a week, we were given notice they’d cut our hours; I am working fewer hours and making less money than I ever have.” 

Fernando Hernandez is a busser at the Manufactory on Alabama. He started at Tartine three-and-a-half years ago as a dishwasher making $14 an hour, and has seen raises only when city minimum wage requirements mandate one. 

“They put up a big sign saying ‘this is the San Francisco minimum, and this is what we have to pay you,’” says the 23-year-old Guatemalan through a translator. He is married, with a child, and sends money back to his father, grandfather, and older brothers. This became more difficult when his schedule was recently cut back from five days a week to part-time. 

“This is a big issue,” he says. “Without any notice it was just reduced. Some weeks they let me work two days, some weeks three days.” Work on holidays, he continues, is not compensated extra, and the days off he received for Thanksgiving and Christmas were unpaid. 

“You can take vacations, but you don’t get paid for them,” says Hernandez. Pinched by his reduced schedule, Hernandez recently took out a loan to make rent on the home he shares with his wife and extended family. He is now paying that back, with interest, with his minimum-wage salary. 

Colleagues approached him five or six months ago to gauge his openness to unionizing. He jumped at the chance. “Right away I thought it was a good idea,” he says. “This will be a good opportunity to just make it more equitable.” 

The union drive would cover four Tartine Bay Area locations; the fifth outpost, at San Francisco International Airport, is already unionized due to airport labor agreements. At some 215 employees, Tartine’s Bay Area workforce dwarfs Anchor’s, which has about 62 workers. Tartine’s workforce is also more diverse than Anchor, which skews white and male. 

“Welcome to our union!” says the ILWU’s Chris Christensen as he embraces Anchor worker Brace Belden (in white jumpsuit). Photo taken March 13, 2019, by Joe Eskenazi.

Anchor workers in March 2019 officially voted to unionize. In December 2019, Anchor workers overwhelmingly voted to approve the contract negotiated with management. 

Agustin Ramirez, the ILWU organizer who handled the Anchor campaign, is also helming the Tartine drive. Since union elections require a bare majority of voting employees for ratification, Ramirez notes that having two-thirds of the workforce sign today’s letter is a sign of strength. 

“We believe that with the public here in San Francisco, we have a lot of leverage,” he says. “Consumers here are open-minded and if the price of bread was to go up a little, not significantly, they will be willing to pay a little more to make sure these jobs pay livable wages.” 

The Democratic Socialists will hold a rally on behalf of the Tartine workers at 24th Street Plaza at 6 p.m. Thursday (also a page out of the Anchor playbook). The workers boast support from Supervisors Rafael Mandelman, Dean Preston, and Hillary Ronen — the three San Francisco supes in whose districts Tartine’s eateries lie. 

“At Tartine the employers are very generous people. They show kindness by providing food to community members during fires,” says Ronen. “The workers are asking for that same kind of respect and generosity so they can speak for themselves.” 

Update, 6:15 p.m.: Tartine spokeswoman Caryl Chinn e-mailed us the following statement:

This morning, we received a copy of a letter that was sent to the managers at Tartine Bakery’s four Bay Area locations. The letter states that many employees wish to be represented by the International Longshore Workers Union. This request is extremely important and deserves a thoughtful and thorough answer.

As there are several stakeholders (owners) in Tartine Bakery, we are required to consult with them on important operational matters like this. Given the importance of this matter to everyone, the leadership team is meeting as soon as possible and plan to respond to the letter more formally by Monday.

The ILWU’s Ramirez said, however, that the workers would be filing with the NLRB by Friday.