Employees at Ocean Hill coffee shop and bar The Daily Press last week filed to unionize with Workers United NY/NJ, becoming the first independent coffeeshop to partner with the union with hopes of establishing clearer communication with management, and improving conditions in their workplace.
Last month, owners suddenly announced they would be slashing store hours — and thus employee hours — at the Somers Street shop, said Gabriel Caldwell, head bartender and barista at The Daily Press. The announcement came only a short time before the new schedule was set to be enacted, Caldwell said, leaving workers worried they may not be able to sustain themselves on their diminished wages.
“For context, some of those hour cuts were like seventy-five or sixty percent, and more than that in some instances, so it was very sudden from essentially being able to make rent and buy groceries to not overnight,” said bartender and barista Tómas Laster.
Overnight, workers realized they wouldn’t be able to pay their rent on Nov. 1, Caldwell told Brooklyn Paper. They quickly made the “overwhelmingly unanimous” decision to unionize.
Although the process has not been easy, the community of employees and the neighborhood has made the process of unionizing much easier than Laster or Caldwell thought it would be — neither had any prior union experience, they told Brooklyn Paper. But Workers United NY/NJ, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union that has worked to unionize 12 Starbucks locations in downstate New York, has provided “a lot of guidance” and support.
“There is a lot of paperwork that is hard to make sense of if you’re stumbling into it blind,” Caldwell said. “It is a real anxiety-provoking process when you’re trying to save your employment, and having just literal support; human beings to talk through the process with, is invaluable, and they have been great in that capacity.”
While the baristas and bartenders are mostly organizing to secure a seat at the table with their employers as they discuss pay, hours, benefits, and more, they also hope unionizing will preserve The Daily Press as a community cornerstone in Bed-Stuy.
“Not only were we dealing with situations where employees couldn’t actually make ends meet because they clearly weren’t getting shifts, but also people weren’t coming into the business and being very vocal about complaints related to it,” Caldwell said.
Amber Crabb, who has worked at the coffee shop since Feb. 2022, said in a statement the Press has become a gathering place for the community, noting that local teachers gather there before school and local fire department captains host regular squad huddles over cups of Daily Press coffee.
“All cafes and bars hope to have customers but we are privileged to serve community members who make our work feel impactful,” Crabb said. “I think it is incredibly telling that our entire staff has formed this united front. When hours were cut, every employee had the right to think ‘That’s not my problem!’ and find work elsewhere. We all see a fostered community that is absolutely worth preserving.”
Laster and Caldwell are optimistic about the future of the union, and appreciative of the support they have garnered from their colleagues and customers. Caldwell said he doesn’t “foresee any sort of abandonment, but I also don’t foresee any sort of defeat.”
“It’s been really incredible how much support we have gotten from one another, how much this has brought us together, but also from the community, the people that we see everyday that come into the bar and the coffee shop and that want to help and want to support us in this,” Laster said.