Boston-area Blue Bottle Coffee locations unionize

Yet another Boston coffeeshop will serve union brews, after employees at five Blue Bottle locations announced their intention to unionize.

Roughly 50 workers at the Harvard Square, Kendall Square, Newbury Street, Chestnut Hill, and Prudential Center outposts of the California-based coffee chain sent letters Wednesday morning to upper management requesting voluntary recognition for the Blue Bottle Independent Union, which is independently-run and unaffiliated with a larger organization.

Blue Bottle itself has been owned by Nestlé, one of the world’s largest food and beverage companies, since 2017. It operates more than 70 locations nationwide. The company did not immediately respond to comment on the union.

“We are unionizing because Blue Bottle does not pay us enough to meet our basic needs, does not allow us any input into cafe operations, and shows continuous disdain for us as workers,” employees wrote in a statement. “As baristas, we are the face of the company and produce Blue Bottle’s value, and yet we struggle to make ends meet despite working full time. For these reasons, we intend to fight for a living wage, democratic control of the workplace, and comprehensive protection from harassment.”

One local store, in the Seaport, did not join the union effort.

Everywhere else, workers allege that the treatment of staff at Blue Bottle does not align with the public ethos of the company, which “prides itself on providing high-quality specialty coffee and paying fair trade premiums,” the statement continued.

A half dozen employees told the Globe they have witnessed a high turnover among managers, lack of adequate training, and an air of apathy from supervisors about water leaks and other problems with physical facilities and allegations of harassment.

“There needs to be more accountability between workers and management at Blue Bottle,” said Piper Milliken, a shift lead at the Newbury Street location. “We will not tolerate these conditions any longer.”

The Blue Bottle effort is another ripple in the tsunami of organizing that has swept Boston-area coffee shops since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The debut of the Starbucks union across the country inspired employees at a spate of local chains, including Pavement Coffeehouse, 1369 Coffee House, and the now-shuttered Darwin’s, to demand more of ownership. Blue Bottle workers also began their underground union effort as early as 2022, but only went public this week.

They now claim to be the only local baristas who chose to take on the lion’s share of organizing responsibilities by unionizing independently, rather than joining forces with an established union, such as Workers United or New England Joint Board UNITE HERE.

“The core of independent unionism is democracy, hearing from workers and giving back to them directly,” said Rocky Prull, an employee at the Kendall Square location and president of the union. “It is not something happening to us, but something we are actively pursuing.”


Diti Kohli can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her @ditikohli_.

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