A slim majority of Tartine workers today voted to unionize — 89 yeses to 84 noes. But, crucially, both union and management contest 24 additional votes, which could well swing the election.

Tartine workers on Feb. 6 announced their intention to unionize, initiating a fraught five-week period leading to today’s vote. Now, according to International Longshore and Warehouse Union organizer Agustin Ramirez, the matter could drag out for many additional months and require litigation.

“We’re hopeful that the owners will accept the victory of the workers and abide by that,” he said. “We would like a fast and expedient process to determine” if the contested votes should be included or not.

Workers at the world-famous bakery and pâtisserie accuse management of union-busting, with specific complaints about mandatory meetings used for anti-union sermonizing; the singling out and isolation of monolingual Latino workers described as “vulnerable” by organizers; the deployment of as many as five largely Spanish-speaking anti-union consultants; and the alleged hiring of a dozen “ringers” prior to the union vote that other workers have not seen show up to the job. 

Whether the votes of these alleged ringers will count in today’s election looms large.

Today’s votes were tabulated at the bakery on 18th and Guerrero; workers at the Ninth Avenue location and Manufactury on Alabama also voted today. The numbers were announced at around 5:30 p.m.  

Workers at the Berkeley location will vote tomorrow. The Tartine San Francisco Airport branch is already unionized, per an airport labor agreement. 

“I’m happy we’re ahead right now,” said barista Pat Thomas. “That’s good. But I wish I had a better sense of resolution.”

Barista Pat Thomas, left, and ILWU organizer Agustin Ramirez were stymied by today’s inconclusive and contested union vote at Tartine. Photo by Julian Mark.

Tartine was founded on Guerrero Street in 2002 by married couple Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt, the beachhead of a dough empire. It 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 manufactory in December, after less than a year in business, laying off scores of workers on the spot a week before Christmas.

Despite the aggressive expansion, management has noted that the money for each venture is not commingled. Prueitt told the San Francisco Chronicle that Tartine’s Bay Area outlets are not profitable. 

During contract negotiations, however, this won’t be something workers will need to take on faith. “There’s obviously money, but how is it being spent? This is why we need a seat at the table,” notes hostess Brigitte Johnson. “Unionization is attractive because it gives us a formal structure to represent ourselves. Tartine is already a pretty good workplace, but it could be better.”

In the run-up to today’s vote, workers said they wanted to focus on wages, scheduling and benefits. During the bakery’s rapid period of expansion, they complained, a number of workers had lost healthcare coverage. Several workers told us they earned at or close to minimum wage, which is currently $15.59 in San Francisco. 

“They put up a big sign saying this is San Francisco minimum wage and this is what we have to pay you,” said Fernando Hernandez, a busser at the manufactory. 

Hernandez last month said he needed to take out a payday loan to make rent on the home he shares with his wife, mother, and brother. 

He says he has never earned a raise other than mandatory bumps in the minimum wage. With the money he earns at Tartine, Hernandez sends remittances to his grandfather, father and brothers in Guatemala.

We placed a call to Tartine vice president of brand Gillian Ressler regarding today’s outcome. She refused to comment.