The line outside Tartine Bakery, March 2013.

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.

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34 Comments

  1. No one is forcing people to work at Tartine. If you apply for a job that requires no education and not many skills what do you expect to get paid? How many people is min. wage supposed to support? Even at 2x the min. wage it would be hard to support more than 2 people in this city. At the end of the day if people have extra to give to others they are lucky and they are clearly making enough to live on.

        1. You’ve never baked in your life. There’s no such thing as a non skilled job. Not everyone can serve tables effectively unless trained. Not everyone can make a latte unless trained. Workers deserve a living wage, especially since they are the backbone of the SF’s economy.

          1. Making a latte does not qualify you as a backbone to any economy. Just FYI. Might want to head back to school son.

          2. Unions are evil. Poor business owners, have to deal with these greedy people. Let’s vote to include tip average as part of hourly wage.

    1. Earlier articles talked about how the management of Tartine has been cutting shifts with little notice and treating workers poorly in the work place. Pay attention to the closing of the Tartine Los Angeles one week before Christmas with no notice to the workers.

      In a city with plenty of jobs available do you really think the workers felt the need to unionize over pay levels?

      1. This is a good point but this article chose to focus on Hernandez. In general the industry as a whole is fairly unstable. Right now plenty of restaurants are closing with no warning to their staff. Cutting people with little notice is the industry norm not something only Tartine does. A law and and not a union is needed to protect restaurant workers from such cuts. Healthcare is required for full time restaurant workers in SF, it’s the law (for large restaurants).

    2. I’m always amused at people who seem to think that “nobody forces you to work there” is an adequate answer to whether a job is well-compensated.

      1. Min. wage jobs are the minimum. They are not well compensated. They pay you the minimum. It doesn’t mean you are mistreated it just means if you want more you have to be more qualified or willing to do a different job. Tartine isn’t paying anything less than the current going rate. Perhaps they are even paying better than the average for some positions (i.e. dishwasher).

    3. Go away. Nobody buys that libertarian nonsense anymore. It’s nothing but a justification for exploitation.

  2. This union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union is the same union that caused the Port of Portland to close down its container shipping port because of their selfish greedy demands. They were found guilty of outrageous behavior by a jury and ordered to pay 94 million dollars for their misbehavior.

  3. The bummer about so many unions these days is they are themselves big organizations and they must be supported by those who join. So the dilemma is that these workers are no doubt struggling due to decades of flat wages. What they want is a higher wage. However, what happens though when you join a union is you now have that added fee. The hope is that the union will be able too increase wages. However, the reality is that the profit margin in a business like this – a bakery – it’s tight. My own experience was in a grocery store. What happened was the union involvement added costs and never added wages. What it did add was regulations. All of a sudden, if someone lost a name tag, they got written up. Suddenly, we were in charge of washing our own aprons. Then we had to wear a special t shirt which we had to buy. It was awful. All sales from the union rep getting us to join, then no substance as a result.

    1. You pay dues so you actually have a say in your workplace. It’s about creating democracy in the workplace. Tartine has already lost this battle because they will be known as a union busting company and will be vilified if this union is not recognized. I’m talking protests and boycotts Think about the money they have wasted fighting this.

      1. Yes, I will now never patronize them again, even if they unionize, bc I don’t want to support the owners. I’d have gladly supported a union shop had they let the process happen.

  4. I don’t have much of an opinion overall on whether or not these particular workers should unionize, but I hope Fernando Hernandez and the readers understand that there is a big sign with the minimum wage posted because it is mandated by law that there is a big sign with the minimum wage posted. That was an odd comment by Mr. Hernandez.

  5. “he needed to take out a payday loan to make rent … With the money he earns at Tartine, Hernandez sends remittances to his (family) in Guatemala”

    Shouldn’t that be the other way around – taking out a payday loan to send remittances? Because that’s sound exactly like what is happening. The rent is the rent. If he doesn’t like living in SF where its so high, maybe he should live somewhere else where it might be half off; however the Min Wage is also likely to be half what it is here.

    That said, a union will probably not bring an significant changes in compensation. What it will do is claw control from the owner-creators. Maybe instead of unionizing essentially a one-stop shop, they ought to look toward forming a worker collective – like Rainbow or Arizmendi.

    You. mentioned the airport franchise is unionized. What are the differences btw the two locations (aside from union dues)?

  6. Jose is clearly making excuses for the business owner by trying to undermine the value of the workers at Tartine.

    These skilled people should take their knowledge and abilities and start a non-hierarchical, worker owned, democratically managed co-op bakery like Arizmendi and tell ‘Chad’ to go F himself. They are the ones who produce the surplus he feathers his bed with anyway. Cut him out of it, and have a place you all have stake in and benefit from equally instead of being this owners’ pee-on’s. He doesn’t respect or value you in any way, shape, or form, and that should be very clear to you given his underhanded actions. Don’t let anyone treat you like this!

    1. True, but the employers give the workers Paid training. It invests in the worker to teach new skills. This training is not free. When the employee leaves, they take that skill with them. For most of the workers who just jumped a fence with no training of any kind, no skills, and no command of the English language what more can they expect? They should be thankful. No one is forcing them to be here.

      1. The training is more than paid for by the surplus the workers generate with their labor, which the owner then keeps for himself; don’t try to play that game. The owner would have nothing without the labor of his employees. Notice how he has expanded his business all over the place, is most likely living a spectacularly comfortable life himself, but he undercuts the source of his surplus. What an ungrateful cad. And speaking of cads, you are totally out of line implying that these workers are just some illegal aliens who can’t speak English and should be happy to have a job at all. Who the hell do you think you are? You don’t know any of these people, and you certainly aren’t better than them.

    2. The owners of the factors of production have the say. If the workers want to invest in their own collective, with their own money, that’s great! They can then exploit each other

      1. That’s right, and in an ideal system the workers would equally own the factors of production, especially since they themselves are the biggest factor of said production. They then democratically decide what, how and when to produce, and most importantly what to do with the surplus. In that case it is called ‘cooperation’ as opposed to the employer/employee ‘exploitation.’

  7. Surely $6.50 for their cupcakes is a bargain…hopefully raising prices will allow for even higher wages. Who wouldn’t pay $12 for a cupcake, am I right?…

  8. As it is, almost impossible to run a small business is
    in SF after city crime bosses like Breed, Nuru and Hui take their cut. Likely this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Tartine no more.

  9. This is absolutely the demise of Tartine. Prices at their locations are already high and they’ll now be increased even more. No way they’ll survive unionizing. Small businesses need to be lean. Have the workers not seen how fragile the restaurant business is? You will all be without a Tartine job in the next 12 months. Shame on you.

  10. The Unions ensure that workers are treated with dignity and respect at the workplace.
    Not to mention safe working conditions.
    This means not being exposed to or made to work in hazardous or lethal environments.
    Traditional benefits such as two days off (weekends), 8 hour workdays, age requirements( not making children work),
    Medical benefits, retirement benefits, forced overtime prohibitions, overtime pay, prohibitions against racial, sexual and other forms of discrimination, seniority and/or juniority violations, pay raises, cost of living.
    The list of protections goes on and on. These are things that your Unions bargain with your employers for you.
    How would you like it if the boss habitually waited for your mother, sister or wife to be bending over or working in a closed off area and he kept squeezing past her rubbing his private parts on her. Without recourse to a Union Steward many people have to live with this sort of harrasement. Or suddenly you have to work less hours a week because a good looking person was just hired even though you,ve been working there for 10 years already.
    Wake up people dont listen to these people who are against Unions, they won,t know how badly they wished they belonged to a Union until they desperately need help from one.
    Always remember if you don,t like your Union reps, they can always be voted out. Unions are a Demorcacy. Get involved. A wise woman once said “things are run by those who show up”
    Being in a Union equals power.
    “Strength and Honor”

    1. Well, Ronald you got some things right. Unions will make it so workers will no longer have the opportunity to work overtime or more than 5 days a week. Once a union goes into effect Tartine will be forced to eliminate overtime hours and pay. There goes all the additional money hospitality workers use to make ends meet in SF.
      We are no longer living in the 1800s, when Unions were created and were needed. Tartine like many other SF restaurants offers free healthcare to their workers. Tartine’s workers are protected by child labor laws and sexual harassment laws with access to free legal aid in SF.
      Unions are a democracy just like the USA and they too can vote in someone like Trump.

      1. Thanks for replying Jose,
        Anyway like i said your Union bargains with your employer regarding the conditions of employment, then afterwards a contract is created.
        I don,t know where you got that information regarding workers no longer having the opportunity to work overtime.
        In the place of employment where i represented the Union for 26 yrs, when workers desired overtime or wanted to work more than 5 days a week they got overtime by seniority. When overtime was not desired such as holidays or any special day that many employees wanted the day off, such as Superbowl Sunday for example, the workers were chosen by Juniority. Additionally in some situations employees have the option to be bypassed for overtime if so desired. I don’t think the Unions are stupid enough to force anyone to eliminate overtime hours and pay. On the contrary i’m betting that most non Union workplaces give overtime but will not pay their workers at the overtime rate, and they probably don’t follow any rational pecking order when assigning such overtime. ( which means that only certain favored individuals are the only ones to get overtime, this could mean by race, sexual orientation, gender,etc… ) Anyway we are in the 2000’s and there are still many unions out there representing people from many crafts, police, longshoremen, postal workers, civil service, teachers the list goes on and on. Ask any of these individuals and they will tell you yes i need my Union. Furthermore free legal aid in San Francisco will not Bargain and/or enforce a workplace contract for you.
        I am not familiar with the Tartines situation but i wish them luck. And for you Jose “right on” for standing up for what you believe in.
        Ron.

  11. common sense will say that if you can’t afford to makes meet for rent, then the relatives in other countries need to get a job instead of relying on your support.

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