Dandelion Chocolate’s Tuesday union election is, itself, a bit like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re gonna get.
While the workers voted 18 to 16 in favor of forming a union, nine as-yet-uncounted ballots are contested and could swing either way, leaving the fate of the nascent union up in the air.
Those nine ballots were challenged by both workers and management, and it is disputed whether the workers who cast them were eligible to vote. Now, over the next week, pro-union Dandelion workers will negotiate with management about which ballots should be included. If they do not agree, the matter will be litigated in front of the National Labor Relations Board, a process that could take months.
The chocolate workers’ plight echoes that of employees at Tartine Bakery in March, 2020, who voted in favor of joining the International Longshore and Warehouse Union by an 89 to 84 count. But 24 “challenged” votes, emanating from workers that pro-union employees characterized as “ringers,” were not tallied.
Only after a year-long process before the NLRB did the union emerge victorious when the board ruled that only 10 of the challenged ballots could be counted. Along with Tartine and, potentially, Dandelion, workers at Anchor Brewing in 2019 voted to organize with ILWU.
Dandelion employee Christine Keating, who has been at the forefront of the union drive, said her mindset is “hope for the best, plan for the worst.”
“It is in everyone’s best interest to come to an agreement quickly and that makes sense about who would be included in the union,” she said on Wednesday.
Since a group of Dandelion employees announced their intention to form a union a month ago, Keating said the workers and the company’s management have held numerous long meetings in which they discussed company conditions. The meetings were largely productive, she said, but at times they felt more like “a platform more widely for management to express why we don’t need a union.”
The meetings, she said, did not ultimately “change anyone’s mind, but made people’s thoughts stronger on whatever side they were on.”
Todd Masonis, Dandelion’s owner and founder, agreed that the meetings featured “productive conversations.”
“We did not take an anti-union stance,” he said. Rather, “we tried to provide as much information as possible” around the company’s finances, pay, and benefits.
“The best way to characterize this was, there were a number of very passionate and thoughtful conversations among people who ultimately had to cast a vote,” Masonis said.
And he believes that all the challenged ballots should be counted. “I’d love to get that resolved right away.”
But Augustin Ramirez, a lead organizer for the ILWU, said three of the nine ballots were clearly illegitimate because they were cast by managers. The rest, he said, can be fairly discussed.
“No matter what the eventual outcome is, we can already see the changes that have been happening due to this union effort,” Keating said.
During the meetings over the last month, she said, she’s seen ordinarily shy employees “speaking to management about problems that they want solved.”
Keating added, “That kind of empowerment and collaboration is exactly why we want to form a union.”