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Workers at 4 Tartine Bakery Outlets Move to Unionize, Citing High Cost of Bay Area Living

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Tartine Bakery employee Tika Hall holds a sign during a rally on Thursday, Feb. 6, in San Francisco support of forming a union. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Workers at four Tartine Bakery outlets are moving to unionize, partly in a bid to help cope with the high cost of living in the Bay Area, organizers and employees said Thursday.

The move to form a union is the latest by workers at an iconic Bay Area institution, coming nearly one year after brewery workers at Anchor Brewing Co. in San Francisco voted to unionize. The Tartine workers at three locations in San Francisco and one in Berkeley will be represented by the same union as Anchor Steam brewers: the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

Tartine employees gather for a rally supporting unionization on Thursday, Feb. 6, in San Francisco.
Tartine employees gather for a rally supporting unionization on Thursday, Feb. 6, in San Francisco. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Like the Anchor Brewing workers, Tartine employees said they were struggling to make ends meet in one of the country's most expensive housing markets. Matthew Torres, a barista at the Tartine location in Berkeley, said he has two jobs — and has many friends in the food service industry who are doing the same.

"These jobs just aren't sustainable because they don't want to pay their workers. And a lot of these popular places run on that business model of turnover," Torres said. "The restaurant industry, especially in San Francisco, needs to change because a lot of the people I know are career service workers," including bakers and pastry makers at Tartine.

Mission High School teacher Greg McGarry wears a Tartine Union pin at Tartine Bakery on Guerrero Street in San Francisco on Thursday, Feb. 6.
Mission High School teacher Greg McGarry wears a Tartine Union pin at Tartine Bakery on Guerrero Street in San Francisco on Thursday, Feb. 6. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

While the company has gone global, and corporate, with stores in Los Angeles and South Korea, employees are being left behind, Torres said.

"I think it's time for Tartine and other companies ... to start respecting their workers more," he added.

Eli Balmer makes espresso at Tartine Bakery on Guerrero Street in San Francisco on Thursday, Feb. 6.
Eli Balmer makes espresso at Tartine Bakery on Guerrero Street in San Francisco on Thursday, Feb. 6. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The workers' complaint echoed many in the city’s food service industry, as well as public sector employees like teachers, firefighters and police officers, who have said over the years that San Francisco has become too expensive for them.

"It has been a struggle as a musician working two hourly service jobs, living paycheck to paycheck and in an area that is becoming increasingly difficult to afford. It has been a challenge for many of us, and this labor union gives me hope that things might get a little easier," said Eli Balmer while making espresso at Tartine Bakery on Guerrero Street — one of the locations in San Francisco aiming to unionize.

Mackenzie Miller (left) and Colette Long decide on pastries at Tartine Bakery on Guerrero Street in San Francisco on Thursday, Feb. 6.
Mackenzie Miller (left) and Colette Long decide on pastries at Tartine Bakery on Guerrero Street in San Francisco on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Tartine spokeswoman Caryl Chin said the company had received requests to form unions at the four locations. She said Tartine's leadership team was meeting and would respond by Monday.

Tartine, founded by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson after a chance encounter with a baker closing his San Francisco shop in 2002, is known for its breads and pastries — and long lines.

Torres said the next steps for workers includes holding elections at each of the four stores, likely in up to five weeks. Employees at Tartine Manufactory at San Francisco International Airport are already unionized, organizers said.

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