Good Karma Cafe baristas vote against Workers United union in rare reversal

The Philadelphia Joint Board of Workers United lost some members after Good Karma Cafe baristas voted to decertify the union.

Good Karma Cafe

Workers at the Broad Street street Good Karma Cafe location inside of the Wilma Theater will voted on Sept. 7 about whether to decertify the Workers United union. (Kristen Mosbrucker-Garza/WHYY)

The Philadelphia Joint Board of Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union that spun up a new chapter to organize independent coffee shops and cafes, lost some union members after a rare decertification election.

On Sept. 7, the majority of Good Karma Cafe workers voted against keeping the Workers United union, according to the National Labor Relations Board initial tally of decertification election votes. There is an appeals process but none of the ballots appear to be challenged.

Good Karma Cafe employees voted six to four against the union, National Labor Relations Board data shows.

That’s a smaller turnout than eligible voters and a different outcome than the original union election about a-year-and-a-half ago.

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This month, there were 18 employees eligible to vote across two store locations. Eight employees did not cast any ballots in the decertification election.

The employees who sought to kick out the union, frustrated about “a lot of employee turnover,” got free legal help from the National Right to Work Foundation, an anti-union lobbying organization, to file a petition for the decertification election.

In March 2022, out of 29 eligible employees, 20 workers voted in favor of unionizing Good Karma Cafe and 3 voted against it. At the time, workers were pushing for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, up from $11-an-hour.

Since the union vote, the cafe temporarily shuttered two of its four locations, one of which after allegations of embezzlement inside the company.

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Neither Karma Cafe’s owner Shawn Nesbit nor Workers United responded to an interview for this story.

Small retailers are not often the target for union organizing campaigns.

That’s because there’s often a different relationship between management and employees, says Todd Vachon, assistant professor of Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Rutgers University.

“The social dynamic can sometimes be different for independent coffee shops,” he said.

That’s because it’s not uncommon for small business owners to work shifts behind the register so management could also be co-workers.

“Whereas when you work at Starbucks the owner is some amorphous corporate entity and there’s some CEO on the top of it that makes millions and millions of dollars,” Vachon said.

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