Frequently Asked Questions about Unionization

Recently, some of our baristas have shown interest in forming a union. We respect your curiosity and want to provide you with all the information and resources you need to make an informed decision about whether union representation is right for you.

Our Position

What is Compass Coffee's position regarding unionization?
Union representation would change how we interact and work together at Compass Coffee. We believe it's crucial for you to have all the facts before making a decision about unionization. Below, we've shared some background information about unions and what unionization could mean for us as a team.
What is Compass Coffee's approach to labor relations?
Currently, we do not have any labor organizations at Compass Coffee. Our approach to labor relations is built on direct communication, mutual respect, and a focus on resolving issues together. We believe in creating a positive and supportive work environment where everyone feels heard and valued. This direct engagement has allowed us to address concerns and improve working conditions effectively over time, without the need for a union.

Union Dues and Agency Fees

What are union dues and how are they calculated?
Union dues are the cost of being a member of a union. They fund various union activities and are typically divided into national, state, and local fees. The specific dues are set by the union representing the employees and usually range between 1% and 2% of total pay. For the average Compass barista, this comes out to between $750 and $1,000 per year.
Would our pay increase to cover the union dues?
Pay for positions represented by a union would be subject to negotiation. However, there is no guarantee that these talks would result in a pay increase or cover the cost of dues or fees, which would need to be paid by members of the bargaining unit. Moreover, if the union vote passes, you will owe fees on day 1, where it make take several years to agree on a contract.
What if I'm not in the union, do I have to pay dues?
Regardless of whether you join the union or not, you will still have to pay agency fees to the union. Agency fees are payments required by most collective bargaining agreements for employees who are represented by a union but choose not to be dues-paying members. These fees are set by the union and can only cover the union's costs of representing the bargaining unit. Usually, an agency fee is about the same as the dues.

Background Information about Unions, Unionization and Union Representation

What is a union?
A union is a group that represents employees to discuss important topics like pay, benefits, and working conditions with their employer. This process is called "collective bargaining." A "bargaining unit" is a group of employees with similar jobs who are represented by the union. When a union is involved, the union negotiates with the employer on behalf of the employees, rather than the employees working directly with their employer on their own.
How does a group of employees become unionized?
A group of employees who want to form a union usually partners with an established labor union to start a new chapter. Organizers from the union will collect “authorization cards” to show that at least 30% of the employees are interested in union representation.If enough cards are collected, the union or the employer can ask the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold a secret-ballot election. If most employees who vote choose to approve the union, it becomes the representative for everyone in that group. This means the union will handle all negotiations about pay, hours, and other work conditions for everyone, even if some employees didn't vote for the union or don’t want to join it. It's important to understand that once a union is in place, individual employees lose the ability to negotiate directly with the employer about their own work conditions.
If I’ve already signed the card, is it too late to take it back?
Under federal law, a union doesn’t have to return an authorization card once it’s been signed and submitted. Signing an authorization card is a legal agreement, so it’s important to understand that you’re committed to the union until an election is held.Being committed to union representation means the union will handle negotiations for you regarding wages, benefits, and working conditions. This means you’ll no longer negotiate directly with your employer about these matters. It’s important to be fully aware of this commitment and what it means for you.However, you can always ask the union directly if you can have your card back. And remember, if there’s an election, signing a card doesn’t affect how you can vote. You’re free to vote as you choose, based on what you believe is best for you and your colleagues.
Do I have to provide my contact information to a union or sign any other document a union requests?
No, you’re not required to give your personal information or sign any documents that a union requests. While unions often try to collect information about potential voters during an organizing drive, you have no obligation to provide it. Unions aren’t bound by privacy restrictions and can use your information as they choose.However, since the union has filed a representation petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Compass Coffee will have to provide eligible voters’ contact information to the NLRB and the union.
How do unions earn the right to represent employees?
Union representation can come about in two ways: either through voluntary employer recognition or a secret-ballot election.In a secret-ballot election, eligible employees in the bargaining unit vote “yes” or “no” on union representation. If most of those who vote choose union representation, the union will represent all eligible employees (and future employees in those positions) in negotiations about employment terms and conditions. This is true even if some employees didn’t vote or voted against the union.
What does it mean to be represented by a union?
When a union is certified to represent a group of employees, it becomes the exclusive representative for all employees in that group regarding their employment terms and conditions. This means the union has the authority and the sole right to negotiate with the employer on these matters. Individual employees can’t negotiate their own separate deals. For example, if a labor contract sets rules about work hours, a barista wouldn’t be able to request specific hours based on their school schedule unless the contract allows for such exceptions.
Why have some baristas at other cafes supported unionization?
Some baristas at other cafes have supported unionization because they believe it helps them work together to improve their pay, hours, and other work conditions. Not all cafes and baristas are the same, so it’s important for each person to make an informed decision that’s right for them based on their unique circumstances.
If a union won an election at Compass Coffee, would all baristas have to join it?
They wouldn’t have to “join” the union, but they would be represented by it and might need to pay agency fees even if they don’t join. Federal law says you can’t be forced to join a union. However, the union can negotiate for nonmembers to pay an agency fee, which is usually similar to union dues, so they can continue to work. The contract terms apply to all employees in the bargaining unit, whether they join the union or not.

Union Elections and Voting

What is the election process?
The representation election is a secret-ballot vote overseen by representatives from the NLRB. Voting will happen in person at specified times and places. Every eligible voter can cast their ballot privately, regardless of whether they have signed an authorization card before. This allows everyone to vote freely based on their personal choice.
Who is eligible to vote?
Eligible voters are those who are part of the defined voting unit when the election takes place. In our situation, the exact group of eligible voters is yet to be determined. The election outcome is based on the majority of those who actually vote, not the total number of eligible voters. The result will be binding on everyone in the bargaining unit and future employees in union-represented roles.
Can I “opt out” of the union by not voting?
No. The results of the election will apply to everyone in the bargaining unit, even if you choose not to vote. This means that all employees in the unit will be bound by the outcome.
If there is an election and we vote NOT to unionize, can there be another election later?
Yes. If the baristas vote against unionizing, there is a one-year waiting period before another election can be held. After one year, the same union or a different union could request a new election.
If the unions wins the election, could there be another election to remove the union?
Once a union is certified as the exclusive representative for a group of employees, it continues to represent that group indefinitely. Removing or replacing the union requires a decertification vote, which involves a detailed and often challenging process.

Collective Bargaining

What kinds of things are covered under “collective bargaining”?
Collective bargaining usually covers key topics like pay, scheduling, and terms of employment. This includes matters such as how you get promoted, PTO policies, and ways to resolve disputes.
What areas are generally NOT subject to bargaining?
Topics that don't relate to pay, work hours, or employment conditions usually aren't part of collective bargaining. For example, decisions about whether to open a new cafe, bring back tips, or change maintenance escalation would not fall under a bargaining agreement. Collective bargaining agreements usually specify that these areas are not included. At Compass Coffee, we aim to support our team in all areas while maintaining clear guidelines on what falls under collective bargaining.
What if an individual barista objected to a provision in the labor contract? Would that person still be bound by it?
Yes, they would. Collective bargaining is about representing the group as a whole, not just individuals. This means the union speaks and acts for everyone in the bargaining unit, and the contract provisions apply to all members. The union decides what to prioritize and negotiate with the company, and the contract is ratified by its members according to the union’s rules. An an individual member of the union, you would not get to determine the priorities of the bargaining unit.
How long does it take to negotiate a union contract?
It varies. Negotiating the first labor contract usually takes a year or more, during which no changes can be made to pay or benefits. That means that, until a contract is agreed upon, we would not be able to continue in our practice of regularly increasing pay. Similarly, the specific terms of any negotiated contract can't be predicted, as both sides need to agree on the details.
Who negotiates the contract?
The contract would typically be negotiated by representatives appointed by the Union and Compass leadership. Unions have their own methods for choosing team members, so it’s good to understand how that process works. Unions often include paid representatives—employees of the union—to lead or assist in negotiations with management. It's crucial to know the background and experience of these union negotiators if a union is selected.
Will the contract guarantee increases in existing benefits and working conditions?
The outcome of negotiations is unpredictable. Neither side is obligated to accept specific proposals. This means that current benefits could increase, decrease, or remain unchanged
What happens if the union and Compass leadership cannot agree on a contract?
If the union and administration can't come to an agreement, federal labor law allows the union to call a strike. Strikes can be challenging and disruptive, impacting everyone in our community. While unions sometimes pay for their members' wages during a strike, this is not guaranteed. The union attempting to organize at Compass - Workers United Mid-Atlantic Regional Joint Board (MARJB) - paid out zero dollars to striking members in 2023.
Are employees required to meet with a union organizer or admit a union organizer into their homes or offices?
What would a union prevent baristas from doing?
The full answer to this question depends on the labor contract details, but generally, baristas wouldn’t be able to negotiate their own employment terms individually. Instead, the union would handle these negotiations for everyone in the bargaining unit. Some personal agreements made between managers and baristas might not be allowed under the union contract, depending on its terms.
If baristas unionize, can cafe managers continue to communicate directly with them in the same way they always have?
Not necessarily. Communication and collaboration between cafe managers and baristas will always be encouraged, but there will be limits and less freedom overall on what unionized baristas can discuss with their managers. Under federal labor law, cafe managers would likely be seen as "supervisors" of baristas. Normal conversations about duties and responsibilities could change, as the union would be the only one to handle all issues related to employment terms and conditions.
What are the alternatives to unionizing?
Every single person at Compass Coffee is important to us, and there are many ways for your voices to be heard. You can share your thoughts and ideas directly with supervisors, cafe managers, and other leadership, or submit them anonymously through our suggestion channels. We also encourage everyone to participate in our monthly team meetings where concerns and suggestions can be shared openly.
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