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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

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News + PoliticsLaborDandelion Chocolate workers' union vote is approved by NLRB

Dandelion Chocolate workers’ union vote is approved by NLRB

Feds agree that the union won, narrowly; now comes the challenge of negotiating a contract.

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On Thursday, after roughly five months, contested ballots cast by Dandelion workers deciding whether to unionize under International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6 were officially counted by the National Labor Relation Board, with a total of 20 votes in favor of unionizing and 19 against.

The final count came several after months of review by the NLRB of contested ballots cast during the election held in April, with some claiming that several ballots were made by those who are not eligible, such as managers.

Workers who voted in favor of unionizing were ecstatic at the news.

It’s been a long struggle for union recognition

“It’s just so exciting,” said Elisha Ragon, who has worked as a chocolate maker at Dandelion for the past four years, and is currently based at Dandelion’s 16th Street factory. “It’s been a long process to get here, so it was so awesome to see that win.”

The election results must still be certified by the NLRB, which will likely happen over the next several days, and next steps will be discussed Wednesday between the union and Dandelion workers during a weekly team meeting, where they will iron out what workers will want to bargain for when their contracts are negotiated, according to ILWU Local 6.

As for what some workers will be pushing for during contract negotiations, Ragon said that they want clearer paths to promotion and higher levels of pay equity among Dandelion workers to be negotiated for in their contracts.

Ragon, a lead chocolate maker, earns roughly to $23 per hour, whereas several members of the Product Making Team, which handles packaging chocolate products to be sold in storefronts, who had comparable experience at the company and also worked at the 16th Street location, earn between $17 and $18 per hour, according to Ragon.

“I was [supporting unionization] less for me, and more for my peers who had been there for nearly as long as I had and were still making minimum wage,” Ragon said.

Ragon, who was involved with pro-union organizing throughout the Dandelion workers’ unionization campaign, said that workers who opposed unionizing had told Ragon that they were concerned about paying dues, and that being represented by a union would deter investors from supporting Dandelion. That concern was one frequently mentioned by management in the months leading to the election, as they encouraged workers to vote against unionization in weekly internal meetings, according to ILWU Local 6 organizers.

Ragon said that dues would likely be equivalent to 2.5 hours of pay per month.

“We won’t negotiate ourselves out of money,” said Ragon.

Christine Keating, who had worked for Dandelion for seven years and voted in favor of unionizing in April before being laid off June as part of a controversial dismissals of pro-union workers on the Dandelion workers’ organizing committee, added that pro-union workers wanted to have compensation tied to seniority, and have standardized schedules for raises tied to tenure and performance reviews included in their contracts, and to increase staffing during internal meetings earlier this year.

“We’ve always viewed understaffed teams as a safety issue, so we wanted it to be given that priority. If teams are understaffed, people on those teams are at higher risk of injury and burnout,” Keating said.

It’s unclear when exactly contract negotiations will begin at this time, but it’s clear that the road ahead for negotiating the first worker contracts will be difficult for the union, Keating said.

Keating, who was involved with pro-union organizing during her employment as well as several months following her dismissal from Dandelion Chocolate, said in a phone interview that negotiations for the first contracts are the longest, as there are no initial agreed-upon terms in writing already in order to build upon—demands of workers, both for and against unionizing, must be solicited, and then negotiated by the union and Dandelion Chocolate management. According to Keating, half of new unions do not have new contracts within the first year of unionizing and 30 percent dom’t have them within the first three years due to the lengthy initial bargaining process.

What’s more, in the case of Dandelion Chocolate, several pro-union voices were removed during the June layoffs, limiting the presence of pro-union workers in the company’s ranks, which was followed by several people in the organizing committee leaving voluntarily, which will make contract negotiations go even slower.

“It is a difficult path forward for the union, even among those 20 people who voted in favor in April, half of those people were laid off in June, and all of those people were in the union organizing committee, and in the weeks after the layoffs, a number of people who were in the organizing committee voluntarily left because they felt that the atmosphere inside the company had changed against pro-union voices at the company. The way the staff looks now looks different than it did in April,” said Keating. “There are pro-union people at the company, but it is a tough path forward for them because they are outnumbered by people who are not in favor of the union…it’s hard to work towards that first contract if you don’t have a lot of support in the company.”

None of the workers who voted against unionizing could be reached by press time, but Ragon said that despite the narrow victory for pro-union workers, with nearly half of eligible workers voting against unionizing, they would take care to solicit and consider input from all workers, including those who voted against unionizing.

“My work as an organizer began a while ago, having conversations about how workers about unionizing, now I get to start that work all over again because we have have had these layoffs, we’ve had new hires, who weren’t there for the [NLRB] election, and learn about what they think about the union, ‘how do you feel about the union, what are things would want to see improved at Dandelion?’, and have as many of those conversations as possible so that no one feels alienated,” Ragon said.

Todd Masonis, founder and CEO of Dandelion Chocolate, did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. If they had to lay off people, why did they hire more?
    Sounds like they just cleaned house of pro union workers based on this article

  2. as someone who used to work at dandelion I know we had better healthcare and benefits than my other friends working for other sf food companies. I only left because my family had to move away…hope they union organizers understand that the team is in a tough spot with covid, they already had to do layoffs this year and are just trying to make things work and for everybody to keep their jobs

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