Great Lakes Coffee workers allege unfair labor practices as strike continues

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click to enlarge Supporters of striking Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Co. employees rallied last week in Detroit. - Steve Neavling
Steve Neavling
Supporters of striking Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Co. employees rallied last week in Detroit.

A local union has filed an unfair labor practices charge against Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Co. on behalf of 20 striking baristas and cooks.

UNITE HERE Local 24 alleges that the local coffee company failed to recognize and engage in “good faith collective bargaining." The striking workers are using Local 24 as their designated bargaining representative.

The union is asking the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to revive a policy that previously made it an unfair labor practice for an employer to refuse to bargain with a union that has shown evidence that a majority of workers support it. The policy was changed in 1972, but Local 24 says NLRB’s general counsel has recently expressed interest in reinstating it.

“We see this all the time — employers stall and stall to discourage any union efforts of its employees, as Great Lakes Coffee management has done in response to workers’ overwhelming choice to strike for a union and first contract,” UNITE HERE Local 24 President Nia Winston said in a statement Tuesday. “But facts are facts, and twenty out of twenty-four of workers at Great Lakes Coffee across Metro Detroit have expressed their demand for union recognition and a first contract and aren’t wavering on their continuation of the strike at all.”

Local 24 also alleges that the company interfered with employees’ rights when it demanded to know the identity of those who would report to work after the employees announced on Jan. 6 that they would stay home due to COVID-19 concerns. According to Local 24, the company also warned it would accept “resignations” from workers who did not respond, a violation of a federal law that allows employees to stay home to protest working conditions.

“When management dealt with us one-on-one, they had all the power,” striking barista Max Capasso said. “But what they fail to realize is that this is Detroit. And in Detroit, we have a way of solving worker exploitation — and it’s called a Union."

The employees went on strike on Feb. 16 and have held two rallies since.

They are demanding a fair contract that includes union representation; a starting wage of at least $15 per hour; COVID-19 protocols; anti-harassment and anti-discrimination protections; affordable health, dental, and vision insurance; and paid time off, including sick days and parental leave.

In January, Great Lakes Coffee’s shop in Midtown closed after employees said a lack of COVID-19 protocols led to an outbreak of the virus. Nine employees and managers were infected.

The strike follows similar actions by Starbucks employees who are trying to unionize nationwide, including workers at multiple Starbucks locations in Michigan.

In a statement to Metro Times last week, Great Lakes Coffee owners Gary and Lisa Miracle said they are hoping for a resolution with employees.

“We believe their dissatisfaction is based largely upon misinformation and miscommunication between frontline workers and management,” the Miracles said. “We take responsibility for that and we will try very hard to repair these relationships. We want to reach a resolution that is not only acceptable, but amicable, to all.”

But, they emphasized, their small business can’t afford to fully meet the employees’ demands, saying the baristas already receive $17- to $23-an-hour with tips.

“Despite our business success to date, Great Lakes Coffee is still a small business which like so many other businesses has just come through two years of extraordinarily difficult times,” the Miracles said. “We are not clear of these times yet, so while we fully intend to do everything we can to satisfy our employees, we cannot take unrealistic steps that will in any way jeopardize the business and the sustainability of the jobs it supports. In that situation, nobody wins.”

The Miracles didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the unfair labor practice charge.

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About The Author

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling is an award-winning investigative journalist who operated Motor City Muckraker, an online news site devoted to exposing abuses of power and holding public officials accountable. Neavling also hosted Muckraker Report on 910AM from September 2017 to July 2018. Before launching Motor City Muckraker,...
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