As Tartine launches into its busy holiday season, some 50 demonstrators, including community members, organizers and 12 workers, rallied in front of Tartine Manufactory yesterday to push for a union contract for its San Francisco workers.
“FOR A FAIR CONTRACT, FOR A LIVING WAGE, FOR A BETTER LIFE IN SF,” they said.
Despite formally unionizing in March, 2021, with Local 6 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, workers at the popular Mission-born bakery have yet to receive their first union contract. At the center of the conflict: Increased wages.
“Isn’t it the funniest thing to say out loud? We can’t afford Tartine bread, us working-class people,” said Robbi Casnellie, 32, who started working at Tartine two months ago.
Despite working as a baker, the “bread and butter” of Tartine, Casnellie feels undervalued and replaceable in a job that pays $22 an hour. “I think it’s because they know they are Tartine. They are trying to see what they can get away with,” she said.
Tartine has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Casnellie and others point to a once local company that has gone global with as many as 11 locations beyond San Francisco and including Los Angeles and Seoul, South Korea.
According to Evan McLaughlin, a union organizer and former Tartine employee, what the union hopes to achieve in this long-overdue contract is primarily a scheduled and guaranteed raise for workers. The company, he said, insists on merit-based pay increases. The union has been hoping to reach a partnership with the company, while the company has been very uncooperative, and “decided to fight,” said McLaughlin.
For him, what the Tartine Union has been facing is reminiscent of challenges the Starbucks union faced: It takes desperate effort to get the company to take negotiations seriously.
“The single most common way that companies try to make it difficult to get a contract is by trying to make it take a long time, by really dragging out the process,” he said. Consequently, workers may get discouraged, some might quit and there might be rapid turnover.
Max Arnold, another baker who’s been working at Tartine for six months, added, “The fact that it’s Tartine, which is pretty much like a global name, and the fact that they pay their bread team poverty level wages is ridiculous,” he said.
On a normal day at Tartine, bakers like Arnold and Casnellie make about 400 to 600 loaves of bread, which are sold for $12.75 to $14.75 each. The quality of the bread, which first earned Tartine a fanatical devotion in the Mission, has now won it fans as far away as East Asia. “To make that type of bread, it takes experience to figure out how to replicate it on a consistent basis,” said Arnold, who made $20 an hour when he started, and now makes $22.
“I really like making good bread. And I like the people that I work with. It’s been pretty hard working there, with a company being really reticent to accommodate their workers in the ways we’ve been asking for. It’s been really demoralizing in ways, like the company doesn’t really care that much about us.”
The bread room, one of the most proactive departments in demanding rights, requested a 30 percent raise. After months of waiting, the company gave them a 10 percent raise as of Dec. 5, so Arnold now makes $22 an hour, or roughly $44,000 a year.
That same day, Tartine’s roughly 100 employees in all three San Francisco locations received raises of varying amounts. Servers and bussers got the smallest amount, a 3 percent raise, and are now paid $18.08 per hour; dishwashers, who earned $18.07 an hour, now get $1 more an hour, or $19.07; line cooks’ wages went up from $19 to $21 per hour to $20 to $22, and prep cooks are in a similar situation; employees who make and sell pastries in vans received a wage increase of $3 to $23 per hour.
McLaughlin said a federal mediator who specializes in resolving labor disputes, which the union has been requesting since a September rally, would finally be present at Sunday’s negotiations. If an agreement is reached, either a three-year contract, as the workers wish, or a five-year contract as the employer wishes, it needs to be followed by a majority approval of the workers.
Tartine Partners, LLC, is owned by Community Investment Management Group (CIM Group), a Los Angeles-based, multi-billion-dollar real estate investment firm. “That’s part of our reason that we feel that it’s reasonable to provide people with guaranteed raises,” said McLaughlin.
Pedro de Sá, a Local 6 Business Agent, has been representing the Tartine Union for the last few negotiating sessions. He believes Tartine is using the decline in business as an excuse to not pay its employees fairly. “If the company is really hurting, they can show us they are really hurting,” he said.
While the supporters were chanting slogans in the drizzle, inside Tartine it seemed to be just an ordinary afternoon as customers ordered their food and enjoyed a bit of leisure time. Some diners stopped by to offer help. Several children inside waved their arms to drum up energy. From time to time, workers who were on shift hastily joined in, though most refused to be interviewed.
Ann Robertson, 77, a retired lecturer at San Francisco State University said, “I’m here to support them. The workers need a good contract.”
“We are about to go into our second contract. You guys haven’t even gotten your first contract yet. And that’s stupid as fuck,” Patrick Machel yelled to the crowd. He’s one of the main organizers for Anchor Brewing, one of the first unionized craft breweries in America. “I want to see you guys when you guys are siblings. Local 6 dance together!”
Kyle Trainer, an employee with Starbucks in the San Francisco store for about five years, also showed up. “Never give up. Never settle for what they say is best. Stand up and fight back. Remember, San Francisco is a union town and don’t ever let the bosses forget that.”