Dandelion Chocolate on Thursday initiated layoffs and cuts that will affect about 40 percent of the company.
The Mission-based “bean-to-bar” company laid-off a “number” of employees, citing economic concerns, such as a slow summer season and reopening pace. The blow affects all departments, levels, and roles, including chocolate makers, chocolate educators, human resources, facilities and others.
In total, eight people were laid off on Thursday, and one person was terminated on Wednesday, according to Christine Keating, a seven-year Dandelion employee and a leader of Dandelion’s unionizing effort. All nine were active members of the company’s union organizing team, and two had testified in a National Labor Relations Board meeting regarding the ability to unionize in recent weeks. Seven identified as people of color, according to a statement by the team released Saturday. In response, the union aims to file an unfair labor practice claim for unfair termination based on union status next week.
“My entirety of my career, I learned all about chocolate making from the great, amazing people at Dandelion,” Keating said, who herself ended her role on the chocolate education team. “It was a gut punch.”
None of those laid-off “were brand-new hires,” the union organizers’ statement said. “We are fully trained, capable, and respected members of our teams.” Dandelion’s CEO and co-founder, Todd Masonis, confirmed some team members who worked for years were affected in a previously released statement Friday.
The announcement on Thursday caught Keating completely by surprise, as she was on her day off. Keating claimed that in past meetings with Masonis, he promised no “surprise” layoffs would occur. But many of those let go were told on their days off or while on vacation, Keating said. (One other person who was laid off while on vacation corroborated that report to Mission Local.)
“This is not something we do lightly, as our goal has been to keep as many team members whole as possible through the pandemic,” Masonis said in the statement, which was released Friday.
Most of the impact came from “senior leaders who volunteered to exit to make room for others,” Masonis said, though it’s unclear how many and which positions that entails. Even some of those who stayed on for years had hours and salaries axed, the statement continued. By doing so, the company saved on payroll expenses. Keating said she was aware of three management employees who stepped down.
The story was first reported by SFist on Friday.
Dandelion Chocolate also made headlines recently for its too-close-to-call unionization effort, which is currently being reviewed by the National Labor Relations Board. Thursday’s layoffs will have no effect on the outcome, Masonis said.
“It’s just really sad, the whole situation,” said a Dandelion Chocolate employee who was not laid off and agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity. The employee identified as a member of the union voting block and, clearly distraught, said the decision was “not at all retaliatory to the union effort. It was just about saving money to make it last.”
The union disagrees. “We think this is no accident. It is obvious to us that these actions were taken in order to stop us from exercising our right to form a union, and to weaken any impact our eventual union will have,” it said.
The statement continued that the laid off members felt unsure about whether they’d be rehired once those jobs came back. Keating said people who talked to Masonis said he told them they were welcome to reapply, but wouldn’t promise anything. Keating further said that Dandelion’s workers weren’t given a chance to cut salary or hours in lieu of losing their jobs, though management were given those options.
Dandelion Chocolate started in 2010, and is known to San Franciscans for its chocolate, cookies and cocoa. Its main retail location is at 740 Valencia St., but in April, 2019, it opened a large headquarters and chocolate factory at 16th Street. It also has an outpost at the Ferry Building, a cafe in Las Vegas, and a retail outlet in Japan.
The chocolate factory and cafe on 16th Street are closed at present, according to the site.
In April, Dandelion workers barely clinched enough votes to join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, with an 18 to 16 vote. However, nine votes remain uncounted and could swing either way. Workers from San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Co. and Tartine Bakery also recently expressed interest in joining this union.
Prior reports from Dandelion management and workers revealed amicable discussions, and Masonis declared he was not “anti-union.” In the end, though, workers said these talks didn’t “change anyone’s mind.”
The anonymous employee agreed with the cordial characterization of these conversations, stating that the company was a “marvelous” place to work. “Dandelion is one of the most inclusive, empathetic, forward-thinking, and compassionate companies. Everyone in management really cares.”
On Friday, an open jobs listing on Dandelion’s website shows that it’s searching for its next Chief Operating Officer, a director of chocolate production, and a pastry chef, all based in San Francisco. These positions appear to have been originally advertised for “April and May,” but it is unclear if they have been filled.
The job-listing site Indeed says that Dandelion Chocolate has about 51 to 200 employees. While it’s unclear how many people were employed before the layoffs, Keating said between 40 and 70 people were at a team meeting Friday, after the cuts occurred.
Keating normally works Saturdays. Instead, she’s left with no vestige of her work life at the company; her email was deactivated, and she already turned in her keys. “If you lay out the facts, there’s a real indication of anti-union sentiment,” Keating said. “It’s affected the livelihoods of nine different, really respected members of Dandelion Chocolate. It really hurts to be treated like this.”
This story was updated Saturday, June 5, at 1 p.m. with statements from the union and affected members.