Union Kitchen employees, including those in Ballston, officially won their election to form a union.
Yesterday (June 21), employees at five Union Kitchen locations announcement that a majority voted in an election to unionize with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400. This includes employees of the Ballston retail store and restaurant located at 4102 Wilson Blvd.
The final tally was 20 votes in favor of unionization and 11 votes against.
The vote comes about five months after employees first announced their intention to form a union. Voting took place in March, with the election being conducted by the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRB). But the results were delayed, in part because management disputed the eligibility of a number of ballots, as reported by DCist.
Workers cited pay cuts, lack of sick leave and staff shortages as the main reasons for organizing. Additionally, they alleged that management had retaliation against workers to unionize, an act that would be in violation of federal law. By unionizing, employees will now be able to bargain as a unit.
The union’s main demands when they go to the bargaining table will be to start paying $22 an hour and increase staffing levels by 20% due to the “serious understaffing in stores”, said Mckenna Willis, union organizing committee member and former Ballston employee, at ARLnow.
In a press release, UFCW Local 400 called on the owner of Union Kitchen to come to the bargaining table.
We are happy to announce that Union Kitchen is now unionized! After management spent the last few months trying to postpone this result, all the votes were finally counted. We won our union.
We want to thank all of our customers, elected officials, community allies, fellow union members and supporters everywhere who never stopped believing that this day would come. We know we can count on you to move forward.
Now we’re calling on owner Cullen Gilchrist to respect the outcome of this election, stop his stalling tactics, and finally sit down with us to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement.
ARLnow has contacted Union Kitchen and Gilchrist management, but has not yet received a response as of press time.
Union Kitchen started as a accelerator ten years ago, helping food startups by contributing their expertise. It has since become a retail store and restaurant. The Ballston location opened in August 2020, amid the pandemic, selling a variety of coffees, convenience items as well as a take-out menu with sandwiches, pizzas, salads and breakfast .
When ARLnow first spoke with Willis in March, she was working at the Ballston site. She is now a former employee, having made the decision to leave about two weeks ago. It had become a “really difficult work environment” and “she was hurting him,” she says. In March, Willis accused management of cutting her hours after a meeting in which she raised her concerns.
“We’ve all been waiting for so long,” she said after learning about the unionization vote. “When I got the text, I almost started crying. Many of us put in hours and hours of work into it. For the workers who are there, it means they have representation and the power to no longer be afraid.
The effort follows a at national scale and the local trend of employees deciding to unionize. Employees of a Starbucks in Merrifield have voted to form a union in April. At the end of last year, employees of the Politics and Prose bookstore in DC also voted for unionization. Just last week, Apple store employees in Towson, Maryland, became the company’s first employees to unionize.
Over the past few months, she says a number of customers have approached her and her colleagues at the Ballston location to show their support.
“We had overwhelming community support from Arlington,” she said. “So many people come in saying they’ve heard of the union…that’s what makes us strong.