More than six months have passed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., and more workers across America are joining together in solidarity to create changes in our workplaces. Minneapolis is one city that has seen a wave of worker actions and organizing wins in the hospitality sector, and the labor movement’s successes there will undoubtedly inspire workers in other parts of the country who are looking to form a union
As the Minneapolis hospitality sector moved to reopen this past spring, many service workers began to harness their collective voice to protect their health and safety on the job. Workers at Tattersall Distilling (pictured above) were the first to announce their intention to unionize in June, citing concerns over coronavirus protections as well as pay and benefits. After a series of well-attended community rallies in support of their organizing attempt, Tattersall’s front-end and bottling workers voted to form a union with UNITE HERE Local 17. Employees at Stilheart Distillery, Lawless Distilling and Fair State Brewing followed shortly after, announcing earlier this month that they too had voted to form unions at their respective workplaces.
Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou (UFCW), president of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation (MRLF), pointed out that the murder of George Floyd and the nationwide grief over his death prompted many of these workers to fight against disparities in their workplaces. Despite words of condemnation about Floyd’s death from local restaurant and bar owners, workers in many establishments believed that not enough action was being taken to foster equality at work. “What I’m hearing from workers, it’s not just about health and safety. It’s about disparities in our workplaces as well,” Glaubitz Gabiou explained. “These bosses would pay lip service, but their words weren’t living up to their actions.”
The renewed effort to organize workers in the Minneapolis hospitality and entertainment sectors was started in part by a unique program to support laid-off workers. The MRLF-led community services program uses organizers to help workers in need access unemployment benefits and health insurance, while also engaging them in organizing conversations and developing potential organizing leads. The relief effort for laid-off workers in the hospitality and entertainment sectors is a partnership between the labor council and its affiliates, including Local 17.
The Minnesota AFL-CIO has also been involved in these campaigns, sharing its expertise and working behind the scenes to help drive turnout in support of workers’ actions. “Worker safety is community safety,” said state federation Organizing Director Todd Dahlstrom (SEIU).
UNITE HERE Local 17 has taken the lead on these organizing wins, and the local and state labor bodies have been working closely with the union’s officers and members. Local 17’s secretary-treasurer, Sheigh Freeberg, said that working in partnership with the MRLF and the Minnesota AFL-CIO has allowed his union to extend its resources. “It’s been really helpful to brainstorm with them on safety provisions and keep each other updated,” Freeberg said. “What we’ve been able to accomplish can be attributed to them, too.”
Last weekend, workers at Spyhouse Coffee went on a one-day unfair labor practice strike over their safety concerns. Organizers on the ground report that progress is already underway at their cafes across the city. Further organizing leads are being pursued, and with such outstanding progress across Minneapolis, there are likely to be more victories for workers in the days and weeks ahead.