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Comrades in Coffee Fight to Certify Union in Detroit

Comrades in Coffee, a group of striking Detroit baristas, continue their picket of Great Lakes Coffee for over 130 days as they await the result of a long, convoluted NLRB hearing.

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A group of Detroit baristas, part of Comrades in Coffee, raise their fists in front of a cafe
Image: @coffee_comrades

Striking workers at Great Lakes Coffee Roasters have been picketing outside the new, gentrified Rivertown Meijer location off Jefferson Avenue in Detroit. The Rivertown Meijer, the new “downtown” location of the Midwestern big-box grocery store, houses a satellite cafe for Great Lakes Coffee, where the company has hired scab workers to take the place of the striking cafe workers. Chants of “don’t buy scab coffee!” could be heard outside the entrance to Meijer during the picket. Workers, who have organized themselves under the banner of “Comrades in Coffee, began their strike in February of this year. Many of the strikers worked at the flagship location for Great Lakes Coffee, which was housed on Woodward Avenue in Midtown, Detroit, which is where this local labor struggle began. Workers have now been on strike and picketing for over 130 days. 

The work stoppage began with very basic demands – the workers simply wanted time off to address Covid exposure, which many of the employees at the Midtown location had experienced. At the time, nine out of fifteen working employees were out sick. When the workers expressed the need to take a few days to get tested in order to return to work safely, GLC management told their employees that if they did not show up to work, the company would consider them resigned. After this response, the baristas decided to draft a list of demands to management, which management did not respond to, and so the strike began. 

The workers are currently being represented by UNITE HERE and are in the process of certifying their union with the NLRB. Workers who spoke to Left Voice said that the NLRB hearings they had with the company went on for an unusually long time, 11 days, instead of the typical 2-3 days, and resulted in a 2,000 page transcript. One worker, Liberty Moore, told Left Voice that the length of the hearing was a result of not only numerous grievances by employees and a couple of Unfair Labor Practice suits, but primarily the slimy evasion of responsibility by the owners of GLC, Greg and Lisa Miracle. The Miracles claim that they do not actually own and operate the Midtown location, and spent much time with the NLRB making a long, convoluted case to evade the fact that they are the owners and operators of the location. Liberty went on to say, “when you’re trying to avoid responsibility for something legally, it takes a lot of words!” 

About a month out from the hearing, workers are still waiting for a decision from the NLRB and are expecting to have to wait another couple weeks. They are trying to prove that they did, indeed, have a single employer, and the determination of that truth will lead to who will be able to vote to certify the union. One worker, Max Capasso (they/them), has called the NLRB hearings “infuriating” and went on to state that “it’s absurd” the question of who the employer is, saying “we all went to work at a place with a sign that said ‘Great Lakes Coffee,’ attended the same holiday parties, and covered shifts for each other.” Max went on to question, “what entitles [the Miracles] to make all the money off of our labor if they say they’re not even aware of what’s going on at any given location?” 

In May, the company permanently closed the flagship location in Midtown as an obvious retaliatory measure against the workers. Nevertheless, “Comrades in Coffee” have continued to picket daily outside the Rivertown Meijer and at the various other Great Lakes satellite locations. The workers we spoke to were optimistic about the union certification process and were enthusiastic about continuing the daily picket, even in light of the permanent closure of the cafe. Furthermore, workers were explicit in expressing a desire to branch out their unionization efforts across the coffee industry “specifically” and to connect the struggle to the intensifying nation-wide labor movement “more generally.” Speakers at a rally also expressed clear denunciation with capitalism as a whole, and called for connecting the class struggle with fights like reproductive rights, trans rights, and fights for racial justice. During their speech, Max Capasso stated, “all of our struggles are inseparable, we need the bonds of worker solidarity more than ever. When an undemocratic, theocratic garbage institution outlaws reproductive care, it is an attack on workers! when these coward ass police harrass and arrest and murder us on the street, it is an attack on workers! when we go bankrupt paying medical bills, so some rich executive asshole can build a pool in their new home, it is an attack on workers! an attack on any one of us is an attack on all of us!” 

“Comrades in Coffee” have also received support from other sectors of the local labor movement. At the picket, a representative from UAW Local-600 delivered to the workers a $5,000 check and gave a speech on the importance of solidarity across different sectors of the labor struggle. 

If you’re in the Detroit area and would like to join the striking coffee workers, Comrades in Coffee picket every day from 8-noon except Sunday at the Rivertown Meijer in Detroit. 

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