Philly’s Good Karma Cafe Workers United union may dissolve

The Philadelphia Joint Board of Workers United, which stood up a new union chapter focused on organizing independent food service retailers in the region, may lose some members in early September.

That’s because Good Karma Cafe baristas are voting on September 7 about whether to decertify its union. It was only a year and a half ago when the overwhelming majority of workers voted to form a union but it hasn’t yet negotiated a first contract.

If the union loses the upcoming election, it will be dissolved after an appeals process through the National Labor Relations Board.

The National Right to Work Foundation is representing Good Karma workers for free in the decertification process. President Mark Mix claims the workers reached out to his organization for pro bono legal help after turnover and short-staffing after the union vote went through.

“The company has lawyers, the union has lawyers, the only people who don’t have lawyers are the employees,” Mix said. “Most of the stores that we’re working with, they’re telling us that the people that were pushing unionization are all gone.”

But it’s a one-time opportunity, Mix said.

“We’ll walk away if the union wins the election,” he said.

In March 2022, out of 29 eligible employees, 20 workers voted in favor of unionizing Good Karma Cafe and 3 voted against it. At the time, workers were pushing for a $15 an hour minimum wage, up from $11 an hour.

Since the union vote, the cafe temporarily shuttered two of its four locations, one of which after allegations of embezzlement inside the company. Good Karma Cafe’s owner Shawn Nesbit did not respond to several requests for an interview.

A temporarily shuttered Good Karma Cafe location on Pine Street laid off workers when it shuttered for renovations. The company’s Instagram page says it hopes to re-open that location in the coming months with a new wine bar. (Kristen Mosbrucker-Garza/WHYY)

In August 2023, there were 19 eligible employees slated to vote across two locations.

The smaller the union, the more likely workers will vote to dissolve it, says labor economist Enrique Lopezlira, director of the Low-Wage Work program at the University of California at Berkeley Labor Center.

“The smaller the bargaining unit, the less likely that the union will win a decertification vote,” Lopezlira said.

Often, employers will lay off union organizers and delay the negotiating process.

“In hopes that workers will turn over, so that when new workers come in they don’t have the history of the fight that happened to get a union in the first place,” he said.

One Good Karma Cafe worker represented by the National Right to Work Foundation said in a statement that “a lot of employee turnover” and chronic lack of staffing led to their petition to decertify the union.

“Workers United union officials have been bad for the stability of Good Karma and have not stood up for the interests of me and my coworkers,” said Marco Camponeschi.

  • September 4, 2023
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