In the Network: Media Co-op Dominion   Locals: HalifaxMontrealTorontoVancouver

Support the VMC, donate today!

Advertisement

Union Organizing goes DIY at JJ Bean

Baristas aim to spread the spirit of union organizing to coffee shops throughout the city

by Dawn Paley

JJ Bean at Powell and Victorial // dawn paley
JJ Bean at Powell and Victorial // dawn paley
Bean Post and Myth List // dawn paley
Bean Post and Myth List // dawn paley
Myth #6 // dawn paley
Myth #6 // dawn paley

Also posted by dawn:

Even though their beans may be fair trade, local coffee shops like Waves, Blenz and JJ Bean continue to be staffed by precarious, non-union workers, a fact which a committed group of baristas is out to change.

The most recent attempt at union organizing in Vancouver coffee shops has taken place at JJ Bean, a hip coffee chain with nine locations in Vancouver and a tenth in North Vancouver. As the chain grows, employees are increasingly concerned about the erosion of their rights, and are seeking to associate with the United Food and Commerical Workers.

"JJ Bean builds up a contract with you when you first start that makes you feel respected," said Jane X, an employee who requested that I not use her real name because she fears her job will be impacted if she speaks out. "But it doesn't actually protect you at all, it's like a false sense of security," she said.

Interestingly, the workers' demands are not about wages or benefits, both of which they say are fair. Instead, they say they're seeking to unionize in order to change the power dynamic between owners, managers and employees.

When the company printed a calendar which featured photos of baristas without seeking their consent in late 2010, 10 employees signed a letter demanding an apology. The two workers I met with claimed the response to the employees' complaint wasn't serious, and that instead of an apology, the people who signed the complaint were individually interrogated, and told that they had personally offended JJ Bean founder John Neale.

"It was handled so unprofessionally, it was like an indicator that if anything like this happened in the future, we would not be protected," said Jane. After the calendar issue surfaced, employees made their first contact with the UFCW, and in January of this year they started organizing a union drive across all of JJ Bean's locations.

Over the next three months, John X and a half dozen other employees strove to have other café workers sign union cards, falling just short of the 45 per cent required to move to a vote to unionize the shops. Some locations, like the new store in the Woodwards building, had 100 per cent support for a vote to unionize, while others came in under the mark.

The employees I met with complained about irregular hours, a merit based system for promotions and raises, and a lack of checks and balances around greivances in the company. Since the drive, they say that there's been an especially high turnover at locations with a high percentage of card signers.

Even though their first attempt at unionizing didn't succeed in signing up enough interested workers, they said they've made strides through outreach across the company.

For their part, JJ Bean claims they're accommodating those within the company who wish to unionize. "We're trying to listen to see what the majority of people want to do, that's basically our stand on that," said Neto Franco, JJ Bean's General Manager. 

Contrary to the claims of workers, Franco said he wasn't aware of any anti-union posters being posted in any of the shops, posters which employees say dissuade workers from organizing.

For Franco, the family aspect of the company remains strong. "It is a family business, it's a family owned business, and I think everybody, or the majority of people that work for the company, consider JJ Bean as a family," he said. 

But one of the key elements to changing the culture of power within the organization, the workers told me, is to get away from the idea that JJ Bean -which has upwards of 180 employees and is on track to expand- is a family business.

Pamphlets, leaflets, facebookblogging, and face to face conversations are the main tools of the workers' outreach strategy, which is focused around creating a positive dialogue with workers around organizing in the workplace.

 "After you have 130 conversations [with coffee shop workers], and month long debates by text message and facebook, patterns begin to emerge," said John, referring to his interactions with fellow workers. He says there are many general misconceptions about unionization among young workers.

"Many people [who work at JJ Bean] don't self identify as being vulnerable workers," said Jane. "People feel like they're in transition, so they don't feel stuck," she said.  

A previous union drive at Waves coffee shops in Vancouver also failed, but John and Jane are hoping to change that. "We're planning on expanding our campaign to all the trendy coffee shops in Vancouver," said John. 

"A lot of people working in coffee shops are pretty concerned with being cool," said Jane. "We want to change people's base ideas about their political affiliation, and unions," she said. 

If these folks have any say in it, union organizing is making a DIY comeback through home made posters, rock and roll shows and word of mouth.

 

Catch the news as it breaks: follow the VMC on Twitter.
Join the Vancouver Media Co-op today. Click here to learn about the benefits of membership.

Comments

MERIT BASED PROMOTIONS???!! WHAT THE FFF

HOW THE HELL CAN A BUSINESS GET AWAY WITH MERIT BASED PROMOTIONS??  THAT SHOULD BE ILLEGAL

What does that mean? Why are

What does that mean? Why are merit based promotions neccesarily bad? I'm a strong syndicalist, but I don't think that promotions should be based solely on time on the job, some people are just terrible managers.

are you serious?

Someone who works harder and does a better job gets promoted...  and you think this should be illegal? 

Giving raises and promotions

Giving raises and promotions based on merit is my understanding of a part of free enterprise. You do a good job that deserves recognition/reward. That promotes you, you get a commendation, you put it on your resume for the next company or corporation that you choose to work for ....that is part of free enterprise. Too much competition for you I guess.

If there is no incentive to do a better than good job, then you could be part of a union where you all do the exact same work for the exact same rate and get the exact same pay increase once a year. If you want to get promoted then you go for an interview with all the same employees that want the same promotion and hope that you are going to stand out amoungst this sameness to get that promotion.

ALL THAT ASIDE, this is not about money and promotion, it is about human rights and privacy law where this company did not ask their staff if it was ok to post their photos on a publicly shown calendar AND when the staff as a group asked to have this removed they were refused. THIS should be illegal!!! ESPECIALLY if the company is selling these calendars to the public for a profit? Someone please confirm if this is true? The staff should get a cut of the revenue!

Threatening with a union is good, because that is what it takes for this company to listen. Although I would have thought it would be good to get this on a televised media source so you have a larger audience to bouycot purchasing coffee from this company because of ignoring basic human rights in what we call a first world country. We are not a third world country...yet. Also, take this to Human Rights comissioner to get this resolved...the risk however seems to be that this company is threatening that staff will be fired?? Can someone confirm all this and clarify, before we go off on some crazy tangent.

Regarding irregular work schedule...if the majority of the staff is that this is annoying, then yes, it should be dealt with. However, one could look at is a 'flexible' work schedule. For those staff who have other priorities in their life, other irregular hours for such things as school or family this could be quite favorable.

All in all I wish the staff at JJ Bean the best of luck. Good job for rallying together! Strength in numbers, voice of the people!

 

 

Acting Out our Parts, both Cafe and Worker

 

Coffee-shops such as JJ Bean put on such a 'progressive' front. Then, when push comes to shove, they bare their disguise. 

All this marks troubled times for the Left, when low-waged depressed workers vote against Unionizing. Heck, even hockey-players, doctors, lawyers, aeronautics engineers, and judges are unionized. It shows that the working class is largely self-denigrading; That's exactly how we're kept down. We're made to do it to ourselves. 

I am a staff member at JJ

I am a staff member at JJ bean and I know for a fact a lot of what has been said is a lie. For starters, the calendar that was made was for fun. We all had a choice whether or not we wanted to be included in the photos. Also as far as schedule goes, if your a full time employee and you don't request every second day off, then you get a consistent schedule. What often happens is people change their availability almost weekly and the manager has to move them around and fill holes. I have been with JJ bean for 4 years and the upper management has been nothing but accommodating (I have taken 3 two month plus vacations and have been welcomed back). As far as the company being a family company, it definitely is still. All four of the owners children work for the company as well as their friends. I'n all fairness just because a man does well for himself does not give the right to random staff members to try and take over control of a business that someone puts their entire life into. And last comment about raises, we all recieve raises based on the same system which is through levels or tests. You show you deserve the raise and you get it, simple.

Calling a Lie a Lie

Dear staff member at JJ,

You are clearly a model worker. By what you have written it becomes very obvious
that you would be considered by the upper echelon at JJ  the most  economical addition to their "team," making it worth their efforts to accommodate your needs!

As an outsider, it seems you are completely missing the point of these efforts to solidify your workplace. It is clear you haven't communicated with those in your day to day about their struggles. I spent some time reading through their blog and facebook and I recommend you do the same.

The lack of integrity in your response to this article and your misunderstanding of the entire process of unionizing is worrisome and bleak.

Not only do you expose your shortsightedness, you openly discredit the experiences and facts provided by your own coworkers, which is excessively typical and disheartening.

Organizing has absolutely nothing to do with "taking over" respective enterprises, but creates an infrastructure of protection for the employees and demands accountability from the employer. If in your eyes, this already exists, why not help solidify it.

Good Luck JJ Beaners!

Calling a lie a lie

Dear staff member at JJ,

You are clearly a model worker. By what you have written it becomes very obvious
that you would be considered by the upper echelon at JJ  the most  economical addition to their "team," making it worth their efforts to accommodate your needs!

As an outsider, it seems you are completely missing the point of these efforts to solidify your workplace. It is clear you haven't communicated with those in your day to day about their struggles. I spent some time reading through their blog and facebook and I recommend you do the same.

The lack of integrity in your response to this article and your misunderstanding of the entire process of unionizing is worrisome and bleak.

Not only do you expose your shortsightedness, you openly discredit the experiences and facts provided by your own coworkers, which is excessively typical and disheartening.

Organizing has absolutely nothing to do with "taking over" respective enterprises, but creates an infrastructure of protection for the employees and demands accountability from the employer. If in your eyes, this already exists, why not help solidify it.

Calling a Lie a Lie

Dear Jim Bean at JJ,
You are clearly a model worker. By what you have written it becomes very obvious
that you would be considered by the upper echelon at JJ  the most  economical addition to their "team," making it worth their efforts to accommodate your needs!

As an outsider, it seems you are completely missing the point of these efforts to solidify your workplace. It is clear you haven't communicated with those in your day to day about their struggles. I spent some time reading through their blog and facebook and I recommend you do the same.

The lack of integrity in your response to this article and your misunderstanding of the entire process of unionizing is worrisome and bleak.

Not only do you expose your shortsightedness, you openly discredit the experiences and facts provided by your own coworkers, which is excessively typical.

Organizing has absolutely nothing to do with "taking over" respective enterprises, but creates an infrastructure of protection for the employees and demands accountability from the employer. If in your eyes, this already exists, why not help solidify it.

Creative Commons license icon Creative Commons license icon

User login

Advertisement