'This Is A Watershed Moment': Pavement Workers Make Moves To Form State's 1st Coffee Shop Union

Pavement Coffeehouse employees delivered a letter announcing their intention to unionize to the company's owner on Tuesday. (UnitedPavement via Twitter)
Pavement Coffeehouse employees delivered a letter announcing their intention to unionize to the company's owner on Tuesday. (UnitedPavement via Twitter)

Workers at Pavement Coffeehouse, a local chain of cafes in Boston and Cambridge, could become the first group of coffee shop employees in Massachusetts to successfully unionize.

In a letter to the chain's owner, Larry Marguiles, the workers asked the company on Tuesday to recognize the union as an affiliate of New England Joint Board UNITE HERE.

Mitchell Fallon, a spokesman for UNITE HERE, said they will now move forward with a card-counting process, in which employees submit authorization forms stating their desire to be represented by the union. Fallon said a "supermajority" of Pavement's employees have already signed cards. If more than 50% of employees submit cards, the employer is required to recognize the union.

In a statement, Marguiles said the company supports the employees' effort.

“For a dozen years, Pavement Coffeehouse has been an independent and locally owned coffeehouse and a place of values and purpose," he said. "We have always believed that we are stronger when people work together — and that unionizing is not a zero-sum game. That is why we support our employees in this effort and believe it will make Pavement Coffeehouse a better and more just place to work.”

Fallon said the workers are hopeful the union will be recognized by management without issue.

"We're just looking forward to engaging in that dialogue with Pavement management, and we were pleased to see that they're willing to speak with us," Fallon said. "I really hope that this continues in good faith."

Fallon said Pavement's workers have been motivated by the implications of being the first coffee shop in the state to unionize.

"I've been really inspired by all of the workers of Pavement coffee, because they're not just driven by the issues that they want to resolve within Pavement," Fallon said.

"They are so aware that this is a watershed moment for other coffee shops around Boston and across Massachusetts and how their impact is going to be far reaching. We're going to be able to unionize other workers in this industry and create industrial democracy for other coffee workers."

He added that Pavement employees have even been getting calls from workers at other coffee shops who are interested in unionizing.

Kit Malmberg, a supervisor at Pavement's Newbury Street location, said they appreciate that Marguiles, the chain's owner, has agreed to work with the union as they move forward.

But Malmberg said they were personally motivated to join the union's organizing committee because they were concerned about what they claim is a lack of transparency from management. Malmberg said they and other employees also feel staffers have been underpaid, especially amid the coronavirus crisis.

"We're forward-facing, considered to be essential workers, but we're not even given hazard pay," Malmberg said.

Like other Massachusetts retailers, Pavement was forced to close its doors at the outset of the pandemic. Malmberg said that when stores reopened last summer, some employees who returned to work saw a pay cut. And Malmberg said they think it's time those workers demand respect.

"I think service workers as a whole aren't really taken particularly seriously," Malmberg said. "It's seen as unskilled labor and something that can be kind of looked down on as something that you just do in between like, say, college and your real job, and because of that, they're not really given fair treatment and fair share."

Some local politicians, including city councilors Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell, Sen. Ed Markey, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, have tweeted their support for Pavement workers.

Correction: An earlier version of this post mistakenly used incorrect pronouns for Malmberg. The post has been updated. We regret the error.

This article was originally published on June 02, 2021.

Laney Ruckstuhl Field Producer
Laney Ruckstuhl is the field producer for Morning Edition. She was formerly a digital producer.



More from WBUR

Listen Live