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La Colombe baristas at Gold Coast coffee shop vote to unionize in unanimous election

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 1/23/2023 Talia Soglin, Chicago Tribune
La Colombe patrons chat inside in the Gold Coast coffee shop on Jan. 23, 2023. © Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS La Colombe patrons chat inside in the Gold Coast coffee shop on Jan. 23, 2023.

Baristas at La Colombe’s Gold Coast cafe voted 12-0 to unionize Monday, joining the steady drip of coffee shop unionizations that have taken hold in Chicago over the last year.

The Gold Coast baristas are the first La Colombe coffee shop workers in Chicago to unionize; their vote comes after employees at one of the company’s D.C. locations voted to unionize in December, according to labor board records. Baristas at four of La Colombe’s five Chicago cafes have filed for union elections with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Local 881, which also represents grocery workers at Jewel-Osco and Mariano’s grocery stores.

Baristas Elise Vazquez, left, Aspen Schucker, center, and Payton Carlson after a unionization vote on Jan. 23, 2023, at La Colombe in the Gold Coast. © Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS Baristas Elise Vazquez, left, Aspen Schucker, center, and Payton Carlson after a unionization vote on Jan. 23, 2023, at La Colombe in the Gold Coast.

Aspen Schucker, a barista at the 4 E. Elm St. cafe, said workers there unionized because they want higher pay and more of a say in staffing, scheduling and other day-to-day operations at the coffee shop.

“Regardless of who we are, where we come from, where we live and what we do, we all deserve to make enough money to live here,” Schucker said. “And that’s not happening.”

Schucker, 20, said baristas at La Colombe in Chicago make between $16 and $18 an hour, plus tips. Schucker said the company increased prices over the last year, but that he is taking home less money per paycheck because of a decrease in tips, despite receiving a 50-cent per hour raise. Other baristas at the cafe did not receive raises, he said.

In a statement Monday, La Colombe said it respected the Gold Coast baristas’ decision to be represented by UFCW.

“While the results of the vote still need to be certified by the National Labor Relations Board, we firmly believe in a people-first work environment and are committed to making each La Colombe team member feel appreciated, respected, and supported,” the company said.

National Labor Relations Board spokesperson Kayla Blado confirmed Monday’s vote count. Each party has five business days to file objections to the election, she said. If no objections are filed, La Colombe must begin bargaining in good faith with the union.

Baristas at La Colombe’s 955 W. Randolph St. location in the West Loop were scheduled to vote on unionization Tuesday, but the election was postponed due to COVID-19, Blado confirmed. The count will be rescheduled as soon as possible, she said.

Elections for two more locations, at 858 Armitage Ave. and at 5158 N. Clark St. are scheduled to take place next week. Baristas at the company’s Wicker Park location have not moved to unionize.

La Colombe baristas said Monday they were inspired by union efforts at other coffee shops. Workers at about 10 area Starbucks have voted to unionize since last January. Colectivo Coffee and Intelligentsia Coffee workers in Chicago are unionized with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; Intelligentsia baristas ratified their first collective bargaining agreement at the end of last year.

“I think I speak for everyone unionizing at La Colombe that we aren’t just thinking about ourselves, but we’re thinking about a much larger movement,” said Elise Vazquez, a barista at La Colombe.

In addition to D.C. and Chicago, La Colombe has cafe locations in New York, Philadelphia, California, Boston and Austin, Texas. The company also sells coffee beans, cold brew and canned lattes in grocery stores and other retail locations.

©2023 Chicago Tribune. Visit chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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