Marking a historic first, the staff of Tattersall Distillery in Minneapolis have unionized.
The voting results were finalized by the National Labor Relations Board and announced last Thursday night. The 27 front-of-house and bottling workers will be represented by the Minneapolis-based union Unite Here Local 17, which represents over 5,000 hospitality workers.
Tattersall Distillery employees first announced their plans to unionize in June. At the time, employees said concerns over transparency from ownership had intensified during the pandemic.
They also said they wanted to organize to improve equity, diversity and inclusion, as well as negotiate for protections and conditions such as compensation to make up for missing work and unemployment benefits due to health risks. Union supporters also sought to involve staff in creating policies ranging from pandemic safety to hiring and workplace behavior, the Star Tribune reported in July.
According to Unite Here Local 17, Tattersall is now the first craft distillery in Minnesota and nationwide to unionize. Some macro-distillery businesses, like Captain Morgan and Jim Beam, have also unionized in recent years.
"I think that we can expect that that is going to set off a chain of events here, where workers understand we actually can have a union. Even if not a formal union, we can build power together," said Eli Edelson-Stein, lead organizer with Restaurant Opportunities Center of Minnesota, which advocates for workers. The national organization's Twin Cities chapter was founded in 2016.
Edelson-Stein, who has been organizing on behalf of restaurant workers for over a decade, said they think the pandemic has added a new urgency to the movement because of the extra spotlight it has placed on the vulnerabilities of restaurant workers. Also, in some cases, workers are reacting to owners' decisions during the pandemic, such as having workers re-apply for their positions or decreasing wages, they said.
"For the first time in my life, I think we’re seeing both a union that’s willing to take on fights in our industry, as well as conditions that have clearly shown the collective precarity of the workers in our industry," they said.
In addition, they said, the surge of activism in response to the police killing of George Floyd intersects with the push for better working conditions.
The systems of power that allow a disproportionate number of people of color to die in police custody is part of the "same system designed to protect capital and businesses, and workers are part of that struggle," they said.
A turbulent journey
Since the Tattersall employees first announced their intentions to unionize, the process has been rocky. As is typical in unionization processes, the co-owners did not voluntarily recognize the union at first, which meant the workers had to go through an election process through the National Labor Relations Board.
"Though it’s not the path to recognition that we had envisioned, we were happy to work with Tattersall and agree on a process that worked for everyone involved," an Instagram post from the Tattersall union account reads. "We consider this win another opportunity for Tattersall to be a leader in the industry; to be a catalyst of growth and progress for other establishments in and around our community."
During that first meeting when staff asked the co-owners to recognize the union, co-owner Jon Kreidler was caught in a recording threatening to call the police on a union rep, the Star Tribune and City Pages later reported.
Kreidler told the newspaper the union rep was being "aggressive" after Kreidler had been asking some workers about the union; the City Pages says Kreidler is heard on tape yelling: "Please leave or I will call the cops.”
Afterwards, Kreidler and co-owner Dan Oskey said on social media: "We don’t believe a union is necessary, nor is it in the best interest of our employees or our company."
After some backlash, they updated the post with the note: "We hear you. We are actively engaging with the election process regarding unionization. This is all new to us — we're listening, learning and know we have made some missteps, but we are committed to finding a solution to move forward."
Friday, Kreidler told the City Pages: "We respect the decision of our employees and will bargain in good faith with the union."