The line outside Tartine Bakery, March 2013.

Proponents of the Tartine Union won a razor-thin victory today after the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., upheld a lower court’s decision that 14 of 24 challenged ballots should be thrown out.

That triggered tallying of 10 previously uncounted ballots. The final tally was 93 workers in favor of the union, and 90 against. That means the Tartine Union is now official.

“This is just an indication that the workers here in the city have a desire to be unionized, and they’re doing everything they can” to make it happen, said Augustin Ramirez, an organizer with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, noting that the Tartine workers waited more than a year to see the results of their effort. “That shows there’s interest among these workers to continue with this fight.”

Workers at the world-class bakery began organizing last February, and officially voted on whether to form their union on March 12 of last year: 89 voted in favor of the union, while 84 voted against, with 24 “challenged” votes, meaning some of the votes may have been illegitimate. The issue needed to be litigated, and a decision would take months. 

But another obstacle was on the horizon. The day the workers voted on the union was also the day the San Francisco Unified School District announced its decision to close schools because of the escalating pandemic. It was also only days before the region-wide shelter-in-place order went into effect. 

Yet even as Tartine scaled down its workforce and concerns shifted to Covid-19, a quiet battle over the bakery workers’ right to unionize nonetheless played out. At issue were 24 challenged ballots. Ramirez and Tartine workers alleged that a portion of them, about 14 ballots, were cast by workers that Tartine’s management had hired solely to sway the vote against the union. 

The state Labor Relations Board in October agreed that the 14 ballots were illegitimate and should not be counted, leaving 10 uncounted ballots, Ramirez said. But Tartine’s management appealed the decision to the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., and on Tuesday the board rejected the appeal and upheld the lower court’s decision to toss the 14 ballots. 

The 10 remaining ballots were therefore counted on Tuesday. Four were in favor of the union, giving union supporters 93 votes, and six were against, giving the opposition 90. 

But Ramirez said that, as this chapter is ending, another is quickly beginning. He said that many of the workers who spearheaded the unionization effort had to leave the workforce because of covid restrictions. And the primary objective right now is to get Tartine to rehire them. 

“We are sending a letter to Tartine, letting them know we would like to work with them and it’s also our understanding that an ordinance that became law in San Francisco – the right to reemployment – applies to Tartine,” Ramirez said. 

Passed by the Board of Supervisors last June, the Right to Reemployment Ordinance mandates that certain businesses who laid off employees must give them first right of refusal to a comparable job when the business begins rehiring. 

With covid restrictions relaxing, Ramirez said, the unionization “couldn’t have come at a better time.” 

The union’s victory at Tartine comes only weeks after workers at Dandelion Chocolate declared their intention to unionize, also under the aegis of the ILWU. 

Todd Masonis, Dandelion’s owner and founder, did not outright reject the effort, as Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt, Tartine’s owners, did following the bakery workers’  announcement to unionize. 

Tartine’s management, meanwhile, has not responded to a request for comment. 

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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  1. They are a rather large organization and, sadly, known to undertrain and overwork their employees — the turnover has always been crazy at Tartine, especially front of the house. There Is also the issue of cleanliness, I’ve been in the food industry for 30+ years and cringe every time I look inside their windows. Hopefully the more regulated environment of unionized labor can help them solve this issues.

    1. Union labor doesn’t help the issue as that’s just a bandaid. This is larger than just what you see. We need to fix this from above.

    1. They do have 3 locations in SF plus the one at the Airport , plus several locations in LA & Seoul.

      Plus they do National Shipping , and would think a bit of Wholesale in the 3 markets

  2. I for one am very happy for the employees of Tartine. I am a retired former union employee that is enjoying my union benefits and generous pension. For Tears to write that he/she believes you can’t have quality products along with a livable wage and benefits is what holds down all of our workers. Congratulations to Anchor Steam employees, and now it’s time to support the employees at Dandelion Chocolate who were inspired by the brave action of these very Tartine employees. I walk to Tartine almost every day for a light treat. If I hear management is stalling and not bargaining in good faith I will boycott them in a minute. I hope Mission Local will continue to cover the negotiations and keep us up to date.
    Good Job Julian.

    1. That would make sense if the city didn’t Mae running a business affordable from all their permits, fees, taxes, etc.

      This is not just about a pay to live but the bigger picture. If we attack the small battles we ignore the bigger view that causes the trickle down effects.

  3. wouldn’t be surprised if Tartine closes. And if they stay open it is a certainty that quality and service will decline. Unions are business killers in SF.

    1. Democracy seems great to some until it applies to those who do the work from which they reap the benefits. The employees decided democratically to join a union, and that’s that. If the company cannot afford to provide union wages and conditions with a quality product, they can’t afford to be in business. Try living on poverty wages in SF. Good for the ILWU! Keep on organizing!

      1. Meaning squeeze not just corporations but any business. Keep in mind, high cost of living goes beyond a wage.

        1. I suppose one person’s “squeeze businesses” is another person’s “represent employees”. SF has always been a union town. I’m glad to see that continues. By the way, the ILWU has a commendable history of furthering racial justice and speaking up for causes most of us care about. This union election benefits not only Tartine workers, but the whole community.

  4. I miss Tartine Bakery. Tartine has made mastered the incredibly complex art of bread making and made it delicious and seemingly simple. Now, Tartine’s owners are faced with an incredibly complex task of merging union involvement in their business plan without sacrificing quality. A huge challenge, best of luck to all.

    1. If what happened to Mission Pie is any indicator Tartine will either have to sacrifice quality, or shut down. I don’t believe MP had their workers unionize, but management held the goal of providing a livable wage without sacrificing quality.

      “…we’ve spent two years evaluating our options and we haven’t found anything that doesn’t either compromise our values or look like a bad business proposition.

      The purpose of Mission Pie was never as simple as making pies, selling pies, and Profit. Rather, the goal here was to produce high-quality food from high-quality, ethically sourced ingredients, price it at a level people in the neighborhood could ostensibly afford, and treat the staff well.”