Workers at the Go Get Em Tiger coffee chain want to unionize

The unionization wave has come to Los Angeles’ homegrown coffee franchise Go Get Em Tiger.

More than 70% of the company’s over 100 workers have signed union authorization cards. This includes eight retail locations — seven Go Get Em Tiger shops and its flagship G&B Coffee inside Grand Central Market — and one warehouse in Vernon. If the drive succeeds, Go Get Em Tiger would become California’s largest unionize coffee chain, organizers said Monday in a news release.

“This is a place where people really like their co-workers,” said Tommy Kemennu, one of the organizers and a barista at downtown’s Row DTLA location. “We want to fight for each other and make sure our voices are heard.”

Kemennu said that although management and workers have had conversations about some workplace issues, including unpredictable schedule changes, increased workloads, and uncomfortable working conditions, workers aren’t seeing enough follow-through. A union would be able to hold management accountable and give workers “weight in the conversation,” even if people mean well, he said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kemennu said, the company ran a special promotion in July 2021 that led to a large influx of customers. Workers allege that the company disregarded COVID-19 safety protocols and opened indoor seating to accommodate more guests, thereby making some employees feel unsafe, according to Kemennu.

“There’s just a feeling in the company for workers that they should be having more of a say in how things are going on,” Kemennu said. “People look at this as a positive thing to really have workers at the front and just as much of a say in what’s going on.”

Organizers asked for voluntary recognition from management in mid-November. Company co-founder and Chief Executive Kyle Glanville and Chief Operations Officer Elena Ceridono acknowledged the petition in a letter to employees posted in store, but did not mention voluntary recognition.

“Converting GGET to a union workplace would represent a radical change to how we do things,” the letter read. “For one, we would not be able to work directly with the coffeehouse teams to continue making the kind of progress we have of late. It’s hard to see that as a positive thing.”

In the letter, Glanville and Ceridono said they are working with the National Labor Relations Board to move forward with a secret ballot election and affirmed employees’ right to vote without pressure or harassment, encouraging them to do so.

“We believe we have a moral obligation to give our team an opportunity to vote on the union armed with all of the important information about what a change like this could represent. A lot of really great conversations will come out of this process, and we’re ready to hear what’s on everyone’s minds,” Glanville told The Times. “I hope we get a chance to continue that work directly with our team, and I believe that’s what is at stake here.”

The business began in 2012 as a G&B Coffee cafe pop-up inside Sqirl restaurant in East Hollywood. After moving to Grand Central Market in 2013, the company opened its first cafe under the Go Get Em Tiger name in Larchmont Village that year.

Glanville and co-founder Charles Babinski are industry veterans known for their previous work with Intelligentsia, a major player in so-called third-wave specialty coffee, which focuses on sourcing high-quality beans. Both have won an annual tournament for competitive coffee-making that made them United States Barista Champions.

Workers at Intelligentsia locations in Chicago and Colectivo Coffee, a Wisconsin chain, voted to unionize last year with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Following in their footsteps, Go Get Em Tiger workers aim to join IBEW Local 45, Kemennu said, which primarily represents broadcast, television and recording engineers on the West Coast. The union will include full-time and part-time employees such as baristas, kitchen managers, line and prep cooks, dishwashers and delivery drivers.

“The CEO and COO say they want to hear the workers’ voices. This is how we choose to be heard,” the news release said.

Go Get Em Tiger is the latest workplace to be hit by a unionization wave that has swept L.A., which saw its first unionized boba stores in September. If the election is successful, the company would be the state’s largest coffee chain to unionize. Unionization efforts at Starbucks have occurred only at select locations.

Cooper Shaw, a kitchen manager at the Highland Park location, said he’s encountered several issues already in his six months with the company that he thinks could be improved with union representation. This includes cutting hours without notice, a “convoluted” system for pay increases and unsafe working conditions during last summer’s heat waves, he said.

“The A/C here wasn’t cutting it for a really long time,” Shaw said, citing temperatures above 100 degrees. “It took a little too long for that problem to be fixed.”

He said he was on the fence about a union for a while, but has jumped on board in recent weeks after seeing the organizing momentum and learning more about how he can benefit.

“I think only good things can come of it,” Shaw said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *