On Sunday, dozens of protesters, including two city supervisors, told Dandelion Chocolate to raise the bar and hire back the nine employees the company let go less than two weeks ago.
The 30-odd protesters on Sunday demanded the nine former employees get rehired, carrying signs that read “We Love Dandelion Workers,” fit with the yellow Dandelion Union logo. A woman beat a tambourine while chanters repeated, “Hire them back!”
The Mission-based “bean-to-bar” chocolate company laid off eight employees and fired one in the first week of June, citing economic troubles. The company also cut hours, and “senior leaders” allegedly left voluntarily to “make room for others,” a June 4 statement from its CEO and founder, Todd Masonis said. Masonis did not directly clarify to Mission Local what senior positions he referred to, but mentioned management was affected overall.
But Dandelion employees who are trying to unionize characterized it as “union-busting,” and alleged that all of those who got the boot were vocal members of the company’s ongoing unionizing effort.
“It was unjustified and it was targeted,” said Kenneth Cabrera, who was fired for human resource issues that he alleged were already resolved before his termination. “Everyone that was laid off was a supporter.”
This could not yet be independently confirmed, and Cabrera acknowledged that some who were avid union supporters spoke at the rally were still employed at the Dandelion Chocolate.
Masonis countered protesters’ claims in an emailed statement to Mission Local on Monday. “I don’t know who is on the union organizing committee, so I can only say that these actions affected managers and non-managers alike, both union supporters and non-union supporters.” In the June 4 statement, he stated cuts and layoffs affected about 40 percent of the company across all levels and departments.
“Extremely vocal” union supporters still have their jobs and even spoke at the rally, Masonis continued. Cabrera confirmed that Dandelion Chocolate employees who support the union still work at the company, and at least three were at the rally.
Masonis also stated that “other team members who volunteered that they had voted against the union were among those laid off. All of these actions were vetted by lawyers and will be examined by the [National Labor Relations Board] to ensure they were proper.”
Regarding Sunday’s rally, Masonis said he supports “employees’ rights to unionize and to free speech” but that, to his “understanding, the vast majority were not Dandelion employees, but general union supporters, Democratic Socialists and others who have a financial or political stake in the outcome.”
On Sunday, the Democratic Socialists of America San Francisco tweeted pictures of the rally “in solidarity.”
Masonis added the protest didn’t disrupt the business; customers could still access the takeout window while protesting ensued.
Among the speakers were District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan and District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, who both asked the company to rehire all nine employees at the rally and on social media. Masonis said he’s reached out to a “number of supervisors, including Preston” in the past week to help save Dandelion jobs. “I’ve yet to receive a response.”
Gabriel Markoff, an attorney present at the rally, said he’s a longtime supporter of Dandelion Chocolate and often brings San Francisco visitors to try its treats. One reason he supported the company for so long is its “ethical supply line.” But, after hearing the recent layoff and unionization news, Markoff said he’s disappointed.
In March, Dandelion employees attempted to join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 6. It was a close vote —18 to 16 in favor of unionization — but nine uncounted and disputed votes that could swing the results remain up for grabs. Masonis and Dandelion Union members are currently hashing it out through the National Labor Relations Board. The layoffs and termination will not affect the vote outcome, both the union and Masonis confirmed.
“My hope was that they’d recognize the union voluntarily, but they went hard in the wrong way,” Markoff said.
Markoff added that, in his opinion, Masonis’s claim that the layoffs were necessary to combat financial woes didn’t check out. In the National Labor Relations Board case, the firm Littler Mendelson P.C. is listed as the employer’s legal representative; Littler states on its site that its “the largest global employment and labor law practice in the world exclusively devoted to representing management.”
Chalking it up to his knowledge as an attorney, Markoff estimated that Littler would charge a pretty penny. “I think you can’t hire a very expensive law firm and start running up bills that goes into hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then claim financial difficulties,” Markoff said. “That doesn’t hold water for me.”
Following the layoffs, the Dandelion Union filed an unfair labor practice charge to the Labor Board on June 9, citing retaliation for union association.
Regardless of how this ends up, Cabrera and others are out a paycheck.
“It’s stressful to lose a job. I’ve been having to really put all my energy into not going into a depression,” said Cabrera, who shared his story at the rally. “I can’t say it’s unexpected, because when you start organizing the company will start pulling these types of things.”
Cabrera said he and others would like to work at Dandelion again — but only under the “auspice of a union.”