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Monday, September 27, 2021

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News + PoliticsLaborDandelion Chocolate workers move to form union

Dandelion Chocolate workers move to form union

Another local business could be represented by ILWU Local 6.


Workers at Dandelion Chocolate announced their intent this week to form a union.

The organizing drive is one among several other such efforts, including at Tartine Bakery, which is currently contested after meeting resistance from Tartine’s owners, and Anchor Steam Brewery, which was successful and is now a part of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6.

Dandelion Chocolate on 16ht. St. Image from the company’s Facebook page.

If the Dandelion Chocolate workers unionize successfully, they will also join Local 6. Local 6 has also represented another chocolate maker, Guittard Chocolate, for more than 40 years.

Claiming that the company is managed with little worker input and that these decisions have worsened working conditions and stagnated wages, workers demanded to have more input in decisions around how the company operates, more transparency from management, and that the company hire more workers and pay higher wages.

“Right now, we have a lot of top-down decisions that get made for us without input and almost in a retaliatory way,” said Christine Keating, who has worked at Dandelion Chocolate for seven years. “We want to have a seat at the table when those decisions are made.”

Todd Masonis, founder and CEO of Dandelion Chocolate, said he was surprised when he heard about the workers’ intent to unionize, but is currently exploring the implications.

“In the moment, I was surprised, but upon reflection I am very eager to hear more, learn about unions, and engage deeply in improving Dandelion…We’re currently learning what it would mean to be part of a union and want to make sure we are doing things right in this process,” Masonis said in an email interview.

Workers have been organizing to form a union for roughly a year and a half to date, but they say recent decisions made by management pressured workers to finally announce their intentions Wednesday.

Chyler Barraca, a chocolate maker at Dandelion’s store on 18th and Valencia Streets, said that several weeks ago their team was reduced from 11 workers to six, yet their team was still asked to make 600 chocolate bars daily, a similar number to what their team was producing before the cuts occurred.

Masonis then informed them, Barraca said, that he would shut down all chocolate production at the Valencia storefront and have all production be done at the factory at 16th Street, which has more efficient machinery.

Masonis then gave the six chocolate makers at the Valencia location until noon the following day to either agree to be relocated to the Mission Street factory or take a voluntary layoff with six months of unemployment insurance and a $1,000 severance, Barraca said.

 Two workers accepted the buyout, while the others remained with Dandelion Chocolate.

Staying, however, has made those workers anxious, as they say that it remains unclear which positions relocated workers would fill and what salaries they would earn working at the 16th Street factory.

“We didn’t know if they could take all the chocolate makers into chocolate making, if there wasn’t room would we have to move into confections, or product-making, or warehouse…if we’re not making chocolate, that means our wage might change, and there was no guarantee of full-time hours…and we still don’t know to this day,” said Barraca.

Tim Ryan, who was also a chocolate maker at the Valencia storefront until chocolate production there was paused on Thursday, also said that he fears that he could be doing a different job that pays less upon moving to the 16th Street factory.

“The people who stay, we don’t have a job right now, technically. We just shut down the factory [at Valencia Street], we don’t know what our job will be moving forward. It could be something that pays less, has less hours, is something completely different than what we were hired for.

Masonis said that all workers being transferred to the 16th Street factory will receive at least the same pay as they got at the Valencia store.

“All chocolate makers moving to the new factory will be making their current pay rate or higher…we paused production at Valencia to make sure that we could operate safely and with a reasonable workload, which was challenging and exacerbated by the recent exit of that site’s manager. We’ve offered the six affected chocolate makers equivalent positions and are currently trying to figure out schedules and roles that work, recognizing that the 16th St factory has different machinery that may require additional training before they can be operated safely,” he said.

Another reason that Dandelion’s workers decided to unionize was because of past controversy around reports of systemic racism within the company, as reported by Mission Local in June.

Barraca, who is Filipinx, said that they were perceived as aggressive after communicating to her store manager, who left the company in March last year, that she felt her comments regarding police brutality were insensitive. According to Barraca, they were referred to as being “not approachable” in their internal performance assessment document, and their promotion to shift lead was delayed as a result.

“They wanted me to be more ‘approachable’ in order to make my promotion ‘more seamless’…I felt like I was being projected on my someone who clearly wasn’t trying to understand my cultural background…just because I’m quiet and somewhat stern, it doesn’t mean I’m intimidating,” said Barraca.

Masonis said that he could not comment on the context behind this incident as the manager involved with assessing Barraca’s report is no longer at the company, but said that the word “approachable” did not appear in the report, which he called a “performance review” and said that its purpose was to “proactively engage with newer and more junior team members, especially if acting in a lead or management role.” Masonis added that efforts to create a workplace that welcomes diversity are ongoing.

“We are committed to being an inclusive and equitable organization and have a formal process for investigating claims of discrimination or bias. We take this seriously and welcome further discussion and continuing to make progress here,” said Masonis, who pointed to a series of ongoing public commitments by Dandelion Chocolate to form a more equitable workplace after allegations of systemic racism within the company came to light in June last year.

As of now, the group of workers that is unionizing, which is about 45 workers out of the total of 84 employees, have filled out authorization cards and Local 6 has filed for an election to be held with the National Labor Relations Board, which will likely be held within the next six to eight weeks.

A minimum of 30 percent of the company’s employees must petition to unionize in order to trigger an election at the NLRB, and the group forming a union cannot include any managers, clerical workers, anyone involved in the company’s finances, guards, or anyone who may be deemed to have sensitive information, according to Agustin Ramirez, a ILWU organizer who is involved with the Dandelion Chocolate workers’ unionization effort. Under federal law, if more than 50 percent of the workers vote for the union, management will have to recognize it and begin collective bargaining.

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  1. Marc, I think reasonable people can disagree about the value of unions in this country.

    Where there can be little disagreement is that unions have been in decline for decades and you should ask yourself why increasing numbers of Americans find unions to be irrelevant. Unions mostly are a throwback to large industrial businesses and the US is mostly post-industrial these days. Which in turn is why you mainly find unions these days in the public sector or a few “old school” business lines like autos, rails, steel, docks etc.

    Want to guess the percentage of Bay Area workers that are unionized? Might not even be 10%. You are on the losing side of history on this one.

    And sorry, but for privacy reasons I am not going to reveal my real-life identity here. But nothing I would say here would change if I did since it is what experience tells me is valid and true.

  2. Tom, you can repeat yourself endlessly, and I know you insist on having the last word, but repeating the same tired argument does not make it so. I also note that you can’t seem to even confront the issue of safe and non-discriminatory working conditions.

    If you look at polling data, you would see that most workers do want a union. But the reactionary laws in the grand old USA have squashed many such efforts for many years now. Give workers a free and fair chance to join or create a union, and they will do so en masse.

    As to my identity, just look elsewhere on 48 Hills and you will see who I am. You are the one who doesn’t seem to have a last name. And that is assuming that you are actually “Tom.” It is easy to say silly things when you are anonymous.

  3. Marc (or whoever you are)

    We agree you should be paid based on what you produce. But if that profit is only $10 an hour then, sorry bud, but that is all you are worth, union or not, minimum wage or not. A wage higher than the marginal profit you create is not sustainable.

    The owner of Real Foods did not wish to be intimidated and so would rather take a loss (with big tax benefits) than pay workers more than they were worth. That shows the risk of being confrontational about unionization, and in turn why union membership has been declining for decades now. Most workers realize that they are better off with no unions, with their “one size fits all” approach. They would rather be paid by their individual effort.

  4. No, Tom (or whoever you are), I am saying that workers should be paid the full value of their labor — based on what they produce, not on the demand for profit from some greedy boss. And we should have a right to decent working conditions that are safe and free from favoritism and discrimination. You, on the other hand, seem to believe that workers should just take whatever the boss dishes out.

    The workers at Real Food lost their jobs not because they asked for too much, but because their boss had an ideological ax to grind about unions, and wanted to make an example of them, even though it cost the boss a small fortune. That space sat empty for nearly 20 years, and the workers won a substantial backpay award from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

  5. Marc, Obviously I disagree.

    If you are worth $15 an hour and I only pay you $10 an hour, then you will leave and take that better-paying job.

    If you are worth $10 an hour but a union or minimum wage law compels me to pay you $15 an hour, then my business will lose money and eventually you will need to find another job anyway, like the guys at that grocery store did.

    Your worth can easily be determined both by the added profit you add to the enterprise and by seeing what the going rate for your labour is in any undistorted market. What you are really saying is that you want to be paid what you would like rather than what you are worth..

  6. The difference between the income of the “business owner” and the “market rate” of the labor employed (i.e., profit) is precisely the amount of exploitation workers suffer. In any event, the “market rate” of labor is in large part determined by the struggle of workers for better pay, with a union or without, in order to minimize that exploitation.

    Plus, of course, there are many other workplace issues that unions address, such as favoritism, racism, sexism and workplace safety. But, once again, how dare workers expect to have a non-discriminatory and safe workplace!

  7. Marc,

    Seeking more money for your labour than the market determines is every bit as “greedy” as business owners wanting to pay only the market rate.

    To believe otherwise is to admit bias.

  8. Marc, That was the store I was referring to, in Noe Valley.

    But your account is only half correct. The owners did deliberately keep the store closed when it could have been open. But a good part of the reason for that was that the staff were unionised, and the owners wanted ran a non-union operation, nationally.

    So the point stands – that sometimes workers wanting to unionize can rebound on those workers.

  9. The grocery store referred to was Real Food. It wasn’t closed because the workers wanted a union. It was closed because the owners were greedy fools.

  10. What was the name of that large grocery store on 24th Street that stayed shuttered for more than a decade because its workers insisted on being unionized?

Comments are closed.

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