All eyes are on Tartine.
More than 200 workers at four Bay Area locations of the beloved bakery will soon decide whether they’re joining a union. The San Francisco locations — the original Tartine Bakery and Tartine Manufactory in the Mission and the Tartine in the Inner Sunset — vote Thursday, while the Berkeley location votes Friday.
If Tartine workers join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), they would be part of a tiny proportion of restaurant workers who belong to one. Regardless of the vote’s outcome, Tartine likely won’t be the same after Friday.
Pro-union workers said they would probably leave Tartine if they fail to unionize. Workers who are anti-union said they would do the same if the opposite is true. The process has been contentious, with accusations thrown from both sides and a lurking fear that the union’s arrival would mean the end of San Francisco’s internationally renowned bakery.
Only 1.3% of the 12 million people who work in American restaurants are union members, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The few existing unionized San Francisco restaurants first organized decades ago — or they’re part of a hotel, airport or large corporation. Pro-union workers at the bakery hope to spark a movement.
San Francisco could “be a place where this is more of a norm and be an example for the rest of the country,” said Emily Haddad, a barista at Tartine Manufactory.
Tartine management, for its part, is well aware of the stakes.
“There are many restaurateurs holding their breath to see what happens,” said Tartine owner Elisabeth Prueitt.
Tartine co-founders Prueitt and Chad Robertson hope the bakery remains union-free. That’s no surprise to the pro-union workers, who have publicly accused management of union-busting over the past few weeks. They’re fighting for higher wages, better scheduling, job security and more benefits, like paid time off.
Employees who don’t want to join a union say wages are already competitive and benefits are strong at Tartine compared to other restaurants.
“I don’t think making Tartine into an example will change the industry,” said Jen Curtis, a baker at Tartine Manufactory.
The first Tartine Bakery opened on Guerrero Street in 2002. Lines still regularly snake down the block for the bakery’s naturally fermented breads and orange-scented morning buns.
Workers say things started to change behind the scenes when Prueitt and Robertson opened their ambitious, multifaceted Tartine Manufactory in the Mission District in 2016. It spawned Coffee Manufactory, their Oakland coffee roasting company, and a commissary bakery so they could add more Bay Area locations. Tartine opened in the Inner Sunset in July, then Berkeley two months later.
Meanwhile, Tartine started opening in South Korea and Los Angeles thanks to outside investment. In total, there are 10 locations, with plans for two more in Los Angeles.
Yet the brand’s rapid expansion is not necessarily a sign of runaway success, according to Prueitt. The South Korea and Los Angeles locations aren’t financially linked with the Bay Area entity, and Tartine still isn’t profitable in the Bay Area, she said. The goal of adding the new Bay Area stores was to eventually turn a profit while still using high-quality ingredients.
“I wish there were bags of money coming out of Tartine every month so everyone could make $25 an hour,” said Tartine managing partner Bill Chait. “The truth is collective bargaining doesn’t necessarily lead to a $5 per hour increase.”
With the costs of labor, ingredients, rent, utilities and administrative fees like permits, profit margins in the restaurant industry are notoriously slim — typically 3% to 7%. While Tartine might not currently make money, the owners still take a salary. Prueitt declined to specify the amount.
Chef and restaurateur Traci Des Jardins has experience operating unionized restaurants, including at Elka in the Miyako Hotel and Public House and Mijita, two restaurants near Oracle Park owned by food-service provider Bon Appetit Management Co. (Elka and Mijita have since closed.) She said she’s grateful for her time with unions, which forced her to be a better manager. “It holds you to a higher standard,” she said.
However, Des Jardins worries that independent operations like Tartine would not survive unionization.
A previous version of this story misstated Tartine lead pastry cook Regen Williams’ pay rate, which is $20 per hour.
“I don’t think they can bear the cost,” she said. “That should be taken into consideration by a body of people who want change: Do you want your employer to not stay in business because of the costs? Then you won’t have a job.”
Hotels, for example, can operate restaurants at a loss and make up for it through room rates. With Tartine, there is no way to pass on such a loss, said Chait.
“Tartine isn’t a conglomerate,” he said. “How much can you charge for a loaf of bread? $16? $18?” (The country loaf currently costs $11.25.)
Some Tartine workers share Chait’s fears, which is partially why they plan to vote no this week.
“The numbers don’t add up,” said Mike Orson, a pastry cook at Tartine Bakery. “We’re busy, but we’re a bakery in San Francisco, paying San Francisco wages and San Francisco prices.”
About 50% of Tartine’s gross revenue goes to labor costs, according to Prueitt, including benefits.
While the national average labor cost for restaurants is about 30%, Golden Gate Restaurant Association acting director Laurie Thomas said 45% to 50% is common in San Francisco because of the higher minimum wage and city mandate for restaurants to provide health care.
“All these benefits San Francisco has put in place with ordinances are normally what unions have been able to get for people in the past,” Thomas said. “I’m not saying they’re good enough, but at a certain point, the models don’t work anymore and the businesses will close.”
Pro-union workers at Tartine want “a living wage,” though they didn’t specify an exact number. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the living wage for a San Francisco resident with no children is $20.82 per hour.
Most Tartine employees start at minimum wage — currently $15.59 per hour — though some positions, like the bread bakers, tend to earn closer to $20. Most minimum-wage earners get tips — at Tartine Manufactory, for example, this averages to about $10 to $15 per hour extra, according to the union. Prueitt said very few of Tartine’s non-tipped employees in San Francisco make only minimum wage.
Confusion around Tartine’s finances is another reason why workers want to unionize. If Tartine managers say they can’t afford to give raises yet charge $5 for a croissant, workers want to see the numbers.
“There is no transparency,” said Regen Williams, who makes $20 per hour as lead pastry cook at Tartine in the Inner Sunset. “I think it’s important for us to get in on the ground floor of it before it gets too big and we can’t do anything about it.”
Some employees described a tense and distrustful atmosphere at work ever since the union effort went public last month.
“It seems like anybody wearing a union button is in direct conflict with anyone against the union,” Orson said.
Much of the debate boils down to an essential question: Are competitive working conditions enough in the restaurant industry, or should workers continually fight for better?
As Tartine Bakery barista Pat Thomas said, “Restaurant work has always been viewed as a non-career.” He and other union supporters argue that should change, while anti-union workers said they always planned to move on to bigger things after Tartine.
Pro-union employees have drummed up community support by holding rallies, passing out posters and recruiting political allies like San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen. They exposed the fact that Tartine hired Lupe Cruz, a well-known union-avoidance consultant who previously ran the agency Cruz & Associates. Companies have paid Cruz & Associates large sums for consulting — grocery chain New Seasons Market, for example, paid Cruz $325,855 in 2017.
Prueitt said she hired consultants like Cruz to educate employees on unions, but ILWU described union-busting “captive audience” meetings, gatherings where employers can spread an anti-union message. Robertson also drew ire with recent social media posts showing images of anti-union Tartine sweatshirts that he made.
Chait said there’s no doubt that Tartine could improve, and that management could listen to workers’ concerns better.
“The problem now is, what’s the solution?” he said. “We’ll never go back to where we were after this.”
Janelle Bitker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @janellebitker
Source: Thanks https://www.sfchronicle.com/restaurants/article/Ahead-of-Tartine-union-vote-some-worry-15121474.php