Pavement Coffeehouse Pt. II: Anatomy of a union formation

By Stephen Grigelevich

August 11, 2021



Last month, I sat down with Steve Gillis, member of the Boston School Bus Driver’s Union Local 8751. Soon, we got to talking about the recent unionizing efforts of workers at Pavement Coffeehouse. This month, I’m pleased to have caught up with Pavement workers Madeleine Tomasic and Emma Delaney to review their union strategy. Both have been instrumental in Pavement’s efforts, which began this spring and culminated in a highly publicized letter in late May to Pavement leadership.


“The conversations had been brewing for a while,” said Delaney, who noted that workers’ wages had been impacted by lower tips during the pandemic season. Workers were also frustrated with the corporate board’s last minute executive decisions regarding customer-worker safety protocol.


“It’s unfair,” said Tomasic, “having upper management…coming in making decisions like, “are customers going to have to wear masks?” or “what are you allowed to say to a customer if they are acting in a way that doesn’t make you feel safe?” One manager who contradicted the board’s bathroom policy out of safety concerns later faced repercussions. “A lot of decisions are made, and no workers are consulted about them, and I think that was just exacerbated by the pandemic.”


Delaney credits a conversation with her roommate, who connected Delaney with Pat Horan of Workers United. “We didn’t realize how taking this little step was absolutely going to propel us into unionizing,” she said. Delaney formed an organizing committee composed of members from every Pavement location. This move was a critical next step.


Tomasic was asked to represent her location. “I had a lot of questions and a lot of confusion at first,” explained Tomasic, “mostly about the basic function of a union.” Afterwards, Tomasic said she knew “this was something I felt passionate about.” For Tomasic, unionizing meant fighting for an equal say in decision making, as well as higher wages and benefits.


After receiving a supermajority of staff support, the organizing committee presented a letter to management and arranged for publicity. “Tori Bedford from GBH got the exclusive at 10am. Local politicians were ready to go,” Delaney explained. Michelle Wu, Ayanna Pressley, and Ed Markey all tweeted their support.


Delaney and Tomasic agreed that the union formed with unusual speed. Under the direction of the union NEJB, employees then signed cards endorsing union membership, and the committee began collecting a list of employee demands. To those interested in unionizing, Tomasic says to reach out to union representatives with questions. “Pavement workers are also a great resource. We have names, numbers, and experience.” The union will welcome all employees from kitchen workers to baristas, excluding those in managerial positions. Tomasic noted that workers from several Boston-area establishments have already reached out to Pavement UNITED in attempts to get the ball rolling for their establishments...


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