“It has taken a pandemic to come to this long overdue point”

Workers at Tattersall Distilling in Minneapolis were spurred to form a union by their employer’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizing Work contributor Jean-Carl Elliott interviews a worker in the shop.

Your name (can be your real name or a pseudonym)

HL

How long have you been working at Tattersall?

Roughly 7 months.

What do you do there?

I am a server in the cocktail lounge.

What union are you all organizing with?

Unite Here Local 17

How did the union campaign start? Was it initiated by an outside staffer or the workers at Tattersall?

It all began with an email from our general manager to front of house staff. In the email, we were asked for our availabilities, provided information of shortened open hours, and a COVID preparedness plan. We were told we needed to respond within a week’s time and to direct any questions comments and concerns to them (management).

After receiving the email, majority of the front of house workers felt the email and preparedness was far too vague. We had questions, comments and concerns. We felt that we could not provide an accurate availability with the information provided. We felt there were a lot of holes in their plan. As a group, we responded to their email outlining topics we wanted to touch upon in our scheduled group meeting.

After we sent that email, we received an email from management expressing disappointment towards the group for not voicing our thoughts sooner. We were confused by this sentiment because we had just gotten the plan, let alone knew they had been working on one. The email then states that there will no longer be a group meeting but instead “one-on-one” meetings with front of house staff with management. These individual meetings would then be followed with an interview to “figure out if there is still a good fit” between the company and said worker. An email sent out by one of the owners on March 17th states, “Everyone’s jobs are safe and will return once the Minneapolis ban is lifted.” As a group, we did not feel comfortable with any of these new terms and conditions.

This email exchange ultimately began our union campaign. We collectively bounced the idea of a union off each other as a group and went forward from there.

What are the main issues/grievances that the union is organizing around?

As many who work in the service industry know, it is already a really tough work environment. From the long shifts, emotional strain and physical labor of it all, it’s not easy. We are currently living through a pandemic. The front of house staff will be coming into contact with so many people. In Minneapolis, there are already bars and restaurants closing down due to infected staff. We want to be in that conversation about our well-being too. This is especially important to us because we are the ones having face-to-face interactions with patrons, not the owners.

It’s hard to pin point what the “main” issue is because unfortunately, there are many. Diverse hiring, divestment from police presence, COVID protections are all on our list. Just to name a few. But ultimately, we want to be heard and want our opinions to matter when it comes to our well-being in the work place. Unfortunately, it has taken a pandemic to come to this long overdue point.

What sort of actions have workers taken at the workplace?

As of now, we’ve had a support rally for the distillers still on the job. Folks showed up in solidarity ready to greet and cheer on our fellow workers once their workday was done.

How has the company been responding?

The owner’s response to the rally was to leave early for the day. Only two folks showed up to the support rally in defense of the owners.

What’s the strategy moving forward?

As of now, we are still waiting on the owners and management to recognize us as a union. We are continuing our ask to the public to call/email the owners to [ask them to] voluntarily recognize our union. As of now, nearly 100% of employees who would be covered in this union have already signed onto the union. We are continuing to speak out to media outlets. We believe it’s important that our voices be heard one way or another.

Any other thoughts or comments we should include?

As we were walking out of our meeting with management to announce our union, our union rep spoke up to the owners to remind them of the legality of union conversations with staff. During this conversation one of the owners, Jon Kreidler, says, “Please leave or I will call the cops.” We have audio recording. There were BIPOC present in our group. We were standing merely a few feet away from the owners. The front of house staff is currently the most diverse department in the company. As a person of color, living through the uprisings in Minneapolis has been overwhelming to say the least. Then to hear the words “call the cops” come out of your boss’s mouth felt so unbelievably fowl. This incident happened on June 24th, almost a month after George Floyd was murdered by a cop in Minneapolis. To hear those words was truly mind-blowing.

The police were not called. We left the premises almost immediately after that moment. Tattersall has yet to acknowledge or comment on this incident.

Jean-Carl Elliott

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