Workers at Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Co. walked the picket line Wednesday demanding the owners of the Midtown Detroit café recognize their union. Among the complaints, the 13 workers at the café were unhappy with inconsistent COVID-19 mitigation efforts and protocols.
Lex Blom, one of the workers, says they plan to strike until they have a contract and have reached out to a local hospitality union to make it happen. Improvement to the $10 to $12 per-hour starting pay is one of the demands.
“We’re asking for better wages, we’re asking for clearer and more strictly enforced COVID protocol and PPE,” Blom says. “We’re asking for child care reimbursement and parental leave and a couple of other things.”
In January, Great Lakes Coffee closed due to a staff coronavirus outbreak. Employees alleged an unsafe working environment.
If recognized, UNITE HERE Local 24 is set to represent them. UNITE HERE Local 24 President Nia Winston says this type of labor action doesn’t happen too often.
“These workers are making unique labor history,” Winston says. “This is the only coffee shop drive organizing campaign in the country that is leading a recognition strike. And let’s talk about the City of Detroit and the Detroit area. That has not been done in decades.”
Blom says their strike is part of a growing movement. Starbucks baristas in Michigan and around the country are organizing amid a growing wave of support for unions. This fall saw high-profile strikes at Kellogg and John Deere that earned workers new contracts.
“The hope is that if we are able to succeed in this, and we’re able to get better for ourselves, that we’re able to show the other baristas in the metro Detroit area and just in the coffee industry at large that yes, this is a booming industry that can support better and you deserve better.”
Winston doesn’t want to hear that baristas and restaurant workers shouldn’t bother to unionize.
“I am so sick and tired of seeing ignorant people just say ‘why don’t they just get a real job.’ Well these are the workers’ real job, right, that’s what they do for a living.”