Workers from three Minneapolis facilities operated by Seward Community Co-op are looking to form a union and on Thursday alleged that managers were retaliating against them.
“Workers lost their voice,” said Gina Montenaro, 37, a Seward cashier. “When [Seward] expanded, it became more corporate.”
Sean Doyle, Seward Co-op’s general manager, said Seward’s three operations, which include a grocery store and food production facility and cafe on E. Franklin Avenue and a new grocery store on E. 38th Street, employ about 350 workers.
“Unionism is an employee decision,” he said. “We said that no, we would not recognize the union at the moment. … We will do everything we can to see that an election will occur in a timely manner.”
This could be the largest unionizing effort in the nearly 50-year history of the food co-op movement in the Twin Cities.
On Wednesday, workers staged a demonstration and presented cards asking for a union election to the Minneapolis office of the National Labor Relations Board.
The union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 653, said Thursday that more than 75 percent of 290 union-eligible employees had signed the cards. The NLRB confirmed that the union met the 30 percent federal minimum needed to hold an election.
About 20 union supporters met Thursday with Nick Seeberger, operations manager for all three locations.
Cashier Bea Cooper, 23, read a statement saying 223 workers had signed union cards and accusing Seward managers of “unequal and unfair application of discipline, discrimination and harassment in the workplace” and “intimidation through various means, including one-on-one meetings.”
Amy Swenson, 41, who works on samples offered at the stores, said in an interview that since she began the organizing effort, she has been disciplined several times. She said that hasn’t deterred her.
“It’s made me more fired up,” she said.
In response, Doyle said, “I can’t talk about individual performance issues. … The co-op has a strict neutrality policy around the union. There has been no retaliation.”
Food co-ops in Minneapolis have seen a recent surge in unionization. Linden Hills Co-op and East Side Food Co-op, each with about 85 eligible employees, were unionized this year by Local 653, and the Wedge Community Co-op, which has about 160 employees, was unionized in 2015 by UFCW Local 1189.