Home Food & Drink What Happened to the Dandelion Chocolate Union?

What Happened to the Dandelion Chocolate Union?

by WDC News 6 Staff

Christine Keating liked working at Dandelion Chocolate: She began her time with the San Francisco firm in 2014 as a chocolate maker and spent the subsequent seven years climbing the ladder, ultimately turning into Dandelion’s lead chocolate educator, internet hosting courses and excursions at Dandelion’s huge manufacturing unit in San Francisco’s Mission District.

However her previous couple of years working at Dandelion had been painful, she says.

Beginning in spring 2021, Keating was instrumental within the effort to kind the Dandelion Union, serving to to mobilize her coworkers and arrange conferences after hours. They gathered within the late night time at one another’s properties and at native bars, and held rallies at Mission Dolores Park with native unions and pro-labor politicians. In April 2021, a union vote was held, and in September 2021 after sifting by way of contested votes, it was clear the union received. By then, although, Keating was searching for a brand new profession in New York Metropolis, having been let go from Dandelion in early June.

Keating and three others concerned within the unionization effort, together with former Dandelion workers and organizers, allege that Dandelion Chocolate didn’t play by the foundations following the vote, partaking in unfair labor practices that successfully crushed the fledgling union. “We had all grown and fought actually laborious within the marketing campaign,” Keating says, including that by the point the ultimate union vote rely occurred it was clear there have been too few union-supporting staff to maintain the Dandelion Union in any respect.

Dandelion Chocolate has been a San Francisco and Bay Space favourite because it opened greater than a decade in the past in 2010. Since 2020, nonetheless, the corporate has contended with myriad controversies, together with allegations of racism amongst administration, the continuing affect of the COVID-19 well being disaster, and a contentious union drive. Now, former employees and labor organizers say the corporate did every little thing in its energy to dismantle the corporate’s younger union — and that it labored. In a time when Santa Cruz youngsters are organizing their native Starbucks, these concerned with Dandelion’s union push say that the corporate missed an opportunity to set an instance as an unbiased enterprise that helps its staff.

Dandelion’s office issues started to air in public in June 2020, when workers described a tradition of “anti-Blackness” inside the firm, telling native information web site Mission Native about an occasion when a supervisor despatched a racist textual content message to an worker. Then, in March 2021, workers introduced plans to unionize. The union effort was a part of a wave of worker-led accountability initiatives that got here out of the 2020 Black Lives Matter motion amid allegations of poisonous and unsafe working circumstances at companies giant and small. Dandelion’s workers turned a part of a golden second for labor organizing; different high-profile Bay Space companies, together with Anchor Brewing and Tartine Bakery unionized in 2019 and 2020, respectively, and extra not too long ago Starbucks and Amazon staff have led profitable union efforts nationally and in Northern California.

However the Dandelion Chocolate union effort was fraught from the beginning. In March 2021, ​​former employees took to the remark part of Mission Native articles concerning the drive, voicing vital opinions concerning the firm whereas native politicians, together with District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, confirmed assist for the trouble. On the time, Dandelion Chocolate founder and proprietor Todd Masonis advised Mission Native he was open to staff organizing and didn’t need Dandelion to be seen as an anti-union firm.

The Worldwide Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) supported and bargained on behalf of Dandelion’s workers, as they’d performed efficiently for workers at Anchor Brewing and Tartine. On April 20, Dandelion Chocolate workers turned of their playing cards in favor of the union. However voting to unionize is simply the beginning of the unionization course of; it could actually take months and even years of negotiations earlier than staff and management attain a contract, which determines and specifies the rights workers achieve. Paperwork shared with Eater SF present that within the days instantly after Dandelion staff voted to unionize, the corporate let go of at the very least 9 workers who supported the trouble, making it exceedingly tough for staff to efficiently negotiate a contract.

In response to the allegations that Dandelion terminated staff in an effort to undermine the union, Masonis offered Eater SF with a written assertion saying that the layoffs had been motivated purely by monetary struggles associated to the pandemic. “The unionization effort was difficult because the on-going uncertainty turned a big deterrent for potential traders — and as an unprofitable enterprise combating COVID — our checking account was quickly approaching zero,” the assertion reads partly. “To be able to hold our doorways open, we sadly needed to make widespread layoffs.”

Eater SF couldn’t affirm, nonetheless, if any workers outdoors of the union had been impacted by the firings.

Greater than a yr after voting to unionize, former Dandelion Chocolate workers say the corporate did every little thing in its energy to dismantle the labor effort.
Patricia Chang

ILWU Organizing Director Ryan Dowling spent a whole lot of time speaking with Masonis, appearing as a liaison between staff and firm management within the ultimate months of the union’s authorized battle with the corporate. Dowling, who has been working in labor organizing within the Bay Space for the higher a part of a decade, says the layoffs that occurred simply after the union vote represent wrongful termination. After the layoffs, dozens of protestors, together with Supervisors Dean Preston and Connie Chan, rallied to attempt to get the corporate to rehire the staff, based on Mission Native. On the time, Masonis stated the Nationwide Labor Relations Board (NLRB) would “guarantee [the firings] had been correct.”

However based on Dowling, staff filed claims with the NLRB proper after the firings, and the group later discovered the terminations to be “unfair.” Had the staff opted to pursue circumstances in opposition to Dandelion Chocolate, a proper grievance from the NLRB might have resulted in a mandate to reinstate the staff and publicly acknowledge wrongdoing, Dowling says. However by the point the NLRB formally decided the allegations of unfair labor practices to be true — which didn’t occur till 4 months later in September 2021 — the previous Dandelion staff had been now not focused on taking authorized motion. “The overwhelming majority who had misplaced their jobs stated, ‘I don’t even wish to return,’” Dowling says.

In its place, Dowling and Masonis agreed that Masonis and the corporate would provide a money sum to workers who most popular to go away so long as they signed paperwork prohibiting the previous workers from speaking about their agreements with the corporate on the best way out — a deal that prolonged not solely to these laid off in June 2021, but additionally further workers who opted to go away the corporate in September 2021. Whereas it stays unclear what number of extra staff left the corporate by selection within the fall, Dowling estimates it was one other 4 to 6 workers. Those that took the settlement are unable to reveal the monetary quantity they got by Dandelion. However as part of the settlement, the corporate promised to extend worker inventory choices and embody flooring staff on the board of administrators; throughout the pandemic, Dandelion additionally ensured all workers had premium medical insurance by way of Kaiser Permanente.

As a result of there was no formal litigation, the one information of the settlement between Masonis and staff come from the NLRB and embody letters Masonis wrote to 2 public officers as a part of the arbitration, Dowling says. In letters to District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman and ILWU President William E. Adams dated October 4, 2021, Masonis apologized on behalf of his firm for any “discomfort or hurt” he brought about to workers and wrote he was “unaware that a few of these statements [made to staff] might cross the road or be thought-about violations of NLRA.” (The Nationwide Labor Relations Act covers workers’ proper to freely affiliate and prohibits employers from discouraging their employees to take action.)

Dowling likens the scenario to a felony plea deal: As soon as Dandelion turned conscious the NLRB might pursue authorized motion in opposition to the corporate, Masonis opted as a substitute to dealer an settlement with staff. “They kind of copped a deal to keep away from a government-issued grievance,” Dowling says.

For his half, Masonis says that of the quite a few claims staff filed all through the summer time and fall of 2021, the bulk had been deemed “frivolous,” in Masonis’s phrases, by the NLRB. Solely a comparatively small quantity would have been investigated, he says, although, after all, the corporate had already reached settlements with staff by October.

A view of the counter and shelving at Dandelion Chocolate’s Mission District factory.

Dandelion Chocolate laid off plenty of staff instantly after a union vote, which former staff and organizers say constitutes unfair labor practices.
Patricia Chang

It’s not unusual for firms that interact in unlawful union-busting techniques to keep away from having to reply for these actions in courtroom. Tony Dundon, an professional on work and employment research on the Nationwide College of Eire, Limerick, describes anti-union ideology as “the blatant intimidation of staff that strives to instill a concern (actual or in any other case) of managerial reprisals for potential unionization.” His work additionally notes that union-busting can appear to be an organization tying up the marketing campaign efforts in time-consuming litigation. Some of these behaviors — intimidating staff and dragging out the unionization course of — are comparatively frequent: Walmart and Amazon have each been referred to as out for comparable practices.

Edgar Franks, the political director of staff’ rights group Familias Unidas por la Justicia in Bellingham, Washington, says conditions just like the settlement reached between workers and Dandelion Chocolate are additionally fairly frequent. Pursuing authorized recompense by way of the NLRB is excruciatingly tough for workers, wrongfully terminated or not, and might drag on for years as circumstances rack up hefty authorized charges. “In our expertise, firms select to settle and assign NDAs once they know they’ve performed one thing fallacious,” Franks says. “They wish to save face. They’d fairly do this than permit staff to have a say of their office and repair points.” Firing vocal union supporters, he provides, is a basic tactic within the union-busting playbook. “It’s meant to ship a chill issue.”

In interviews with Eater SF, ILWU representatives and former Dandelion Chocolate employees shared plenty of methods they are saying the corporate labored to undercut the efficacy of the union. Dowling says Masonis and administration blamed employees when traders within the firm pulled out because of speak of unionization, intimidated staff by abruptly shedding those that spoke out in opposition to the corporate, and made false guarantees to staff in an effort to undermine the union effort. (Eater SF spoke to 2 former employees members who requested to stay nameless because of agreements they signed as part of the settlement reached with the corporate.)

Evan McLaughlin, a neighborhood labor activist who labored with Tartine Bakery and Anchor Brewing on their union drives, is now the ILWU consultant for Northern California. He confirms there was important pushback from administration at Dandelion Chocolate throughout the union marketing campaign.

“When the vote really occurred, we solely received that vote by a small margin as a result of [company’s] marketing campaign,” McLaughlin says. “After that time, there have been plenty of layoffs and one firing that solely affected vocal union supporters. We preserve that unfair labor practices had been dedicated.”

Dowling says he thinks Dandelion missed a chance to be a pro-worker chocolate enterprise throughout a time when many conversations inside the trade middle on staff’ rights. “I believe it’s disheartening that Dandelion Chocolate might flip letters in to the San Francisco County Board in addition to the ILWU, apologize for infractions in opposition to labor legislation, then flip round and say there was no benefit to what the labor board discovered,” he says. “If something, I’d assume Todd would wish to present that he discovered from his errors.”

The Dandelion Chocolate sign at the company’s Valencia Street retail cafe.

Dandelion Chocolate reopened its Valencia Avenue cafe for indoor eating in March after an prolonged closure as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.

In the meantime, Dandelion Chocolate is shuffling again into order within the wake of what was hopefully the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dandelion’s Valencia Avenue cafe reopened in March for indoor eating and procuring with prolonged retailer hours. The manufacturing facility within the Mission stays closed to the general public, although a gap date for Bloom Salon, Dandelion’s eating choice contained in the manufacturing unit, is ready for later this summer time. The Ferry Constructing outpost, which had beforehand been open for retail gross sales solely, is again to serving foods and drinks, too.

Lisa Vega, government pastry chef at Dandelion Chocolate, has been with the corporate since 2013. She says the employees has felt the affect of the previous few years, however pandemic-related provide chain and questions of safety have been extra the corporate’s focus than addressing its half within the stalled union effort. “The union isn’t part of day-to-day conversations,” Vega says. “We’ve been targeted on constructing again our workforce as we do have quite a bit to do.”

Trying again, Keating acknowledges there have been coworkers who weren’t excited concerning the union. One employee of about three years, who selected to stay nameless and isn’t an energetic member of the union, says the union effort was the “crescendo of a whole lot of issues {that a} union couldn’t assist with.” They agreed with Vega that conversations concerning the union and the precise points it was fashioned to deal with should not a day-to-day a part of working on the manufacturing unit. Masonis, for his half, enacted COVID hazard pay, offered distant work to academics, baristas, and the majority of the employees, and does hope to implement additional employee advantages packages, too.

Keating says she’s glad to assume Dandelion is supporting workers’ rights with some concessions Masonis made as part of the settlement with staff final yr, however fears the gutted union ranks received’t be capable of cut price successfully — particularly with out the ILWU, which now not represents the union as a result of lack of assets. (Of the union’s resolution to deny its curiosity in Dandelion, Masonis says, “My understanding is the choice was in a roundabout way linked to the settlement.”) Dowling says, nonetheless, that the Dandelion Union continues to be, at the very least on paper, part of the native ILWU. If staff needed to renew working with the ILWU tomorrow, they might. The issue is that the corporate might proceed to pull out the method. Of the 20 “sure” votes solid to the 19 “nos” within the March 2021 election, at the very least 10 of the approving workers have since left the corporate or been laid off.

“Securing a primary settlement is tough sufficient when you have got energetic individuals,” Keating says.

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