Workers at Chicago-based specialty coffee company Intelligentsia Coffee voted to unionize Monday, the latest in a string of union votes at coffeehouses across the city in recent months.
The vote affects nearly 30 workers at Intelligentsia’s five Chicago cafes, including two in the Loop, and one each in Lakeview East, East Ukrainian Village and Logan Square.
Brett Lyons, a business representative for Local 1220 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said the union hopes to organize the approximately 20 employees of the company’s West Town coffee roastery later this year.
Intelligentsia becomes the second Chicagoland coffee chain to be represented by Local 1220, after Colectivo Coffee, where workers began bargaining for their first contract this summer, the union said in a statement. Nearly 500 Colectivo Coffee workers across Chicago and Milwaukee are represented jointly by Local 1220 and Local 494 in Milwaukee, Lyons said.
Jordan Parshall, a shift lead at Intelligentsia’s cafe in the Monadnock Building in the Loop, said he worked briefly at Colectivo when he first moved to Chicago and was inspired by their union campaign. When a man wearing an IBEW hat walked into the Monadnock store last year, Parshall asked if he could help the Intelligentsia workers get in touch with someone from the union.
The man gave Parshall a number to call, and Intelligentsia employees filed for union representation in May.
“We just want the terms of our employment to be in a contract that is solid and secure, and every few years we know we can bargain to make it even better,” Parshall said. “Right now, our company, they decide the terms of our employment, they decide how many holidays we get, they decide what our health care is. And we don’t have any tangible way to hold them accountable for those things.”
Ten out of approximately 27 eligible voters turned in mail-in ballots, with nine out of 10 voting to join IBEW, said Kayla Blado, a spokesperson for the National Labor Relations Board. There is no minimum voter turnout required to win an election, Blado said.
Parshall attributed the low voter turnout to some ballots having gone out to old addresses where his co-workers no longer lived.
Monday’s election comes amid an upsurge of union activity across the country. Coffee shop unions in particular have gained steam this year, with the national Starbucks union push perhaps the most high-profile campaign.
So far, workers have unionized more than 200 Starbucks cafes in 36 states, according to late July data from the NLRB. In Chicago, baristas at five Starbucks have unionized since May.
“I think that a lot of it comes from the instability that a lot of us experienced when we were all laid off from our jobs in March of 2020,” said Parshall, who was laid off from his coffee-shop job in Minneapolis at the start of the pandemic.
In a statement, Local 1220 business manager John Rizzo said the union was “thrilled” by the results of Monday’s election.
“A collective bargaining agreement is one of the strongest tools that workers have. It gives employees an ability to have their voices heard at work,” Rizzo said. “Intelligentsia employees will now have a seat at the table and a say in their employment and working conditions.”
Intelligentsia first opened in Chicago in 1995. In addition to its five Chicago cafes, the specialty coffee roaster has locations in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Austin.
“As we have done throughout the election process, and while the NLRB’s certification of the election results is pending, our Chicago coffeebars are operating and our employees are delivering extraordinary coffee to our customers every day,” said Lisa Strangis, a spokesperson for Intelligentsia, in a statement.