By Mathew Schumer
Amid a wave of public support, workers at businesses across the country are coming together to form unions. A Gallup poll conducted in August suggests that Americans’ approval of labor unions is at its highest rate since the 1960s.
Workers at a number of MOM’s Organic Market locations have voted to form unions with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). MOM’s was founded in 1987 and employs more than a thousand people in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
Cody Cochrane is a team member of the MOM’s College Park franchise and is on the front lines of the employees’ unionization efforts there. The 22-year-old, who is a sophomore at the University of Maryland, has been working at MOM’s for about a year.
Cochrane has been involved in the process from the start. “Early on, I was asking people and beginning to verify who was willing to vote and who wasn’t before we had to file with the NLRB,” he said. (NLRB is the acronym for National Labor Relations Board.)
In August, workers at MOM’s in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood voted to unionize, and in November, workers at the MOM’s franchise in Timonium voted overwhelmingly to do so, as well. These votes made the news and energized Cochrane’s coworkers. He and his co-workers held secret negotiations over the course of several months with the UFCW to shield what they were doing from MOM’s upper management.
“They have cameras all over the store and there are people in the central office whose job it is to monitor the stores in general,” Cochrane said. “At any moment, there could be someone watching and listening in to what you’re doing.”
While Cochrane and his team were careful to protect their process from upper management, he emphasized that the store’s middle management — the team’s direct supervisors — have been largely supportive throughout the process.
“We’re not really unionizing against the management of the store specifically — it’s very much against the central office and the company itself, and the things they institute,” he said. “I’d say they’re trying their best not to interfere, but I don’t think central is giving them much of [a] choice.”
Cochrane said that the team’s efforts were largely aimed at ensuring workers a living wage. He noted that several of his co-workers, individuals who have been with the store for more than a decade, have received only infrequent, modest raises over that time.
The team filed for union election through UFCW Local 400, which represents unions in the DMV. And these MOM’s teams were not alone in their readiness to form unions; workers at two La Colombe Coffee Roasters stores in the District filed in November through the same UFCW branch.
“In seven years at the local, I can’t think of another time where in so short a period, we’ve had so many workplaces organizing,” said Jonathan Williams, communications director with UFCW Local 400.
The election to unionize College Park MOM’s is being conducted by mail and will close on Dec 23. The NLRB will tabulate votes, with representatives from both union and management sides present.
Cochrane was optimistic that the team’s efforts would have an impact.“I guess I hope that even if this is a small one-store thing,” he said, “it will still be a part of a bigger movement that’s happening in the U.S. and an addition that keeps that momentum going.”