By Mat Schumer
Despite growing support for unions in the U.S, efforts to unionize have been on a steady decline for the past 40 years. But employees of businesses in niche markets — especially progressive ones — are increasingly pushing to unionize. Among these businesses is the MOM’s Organic Market off of Rhode Island Avenue in College Park.
In December, the workers of MOM’s in College Park voted to form a union with United Food & Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) Local 400. The vote was held by mail-in ballot after employees worked for months to unionize. The final tally of 21 votes came at 17 in favor and four against.
Following the vote, MOM’s Organic Markets’ corporate office filed an objection to the vote with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Among their objections, they claimed that union organizers intimidated workers on several occasions and tried to persuade them to vote in favor of the move. Sean Marshall, the regional director of NLRB’s fifth region, reviewed evidence and, in February, overruled the objections.
“MOM’s had disputed [the vote] on the grounds that the union was intimidating workers and telling them either to vote yes or not at all. … There hadn’t been union reps physically in the store at that point for about a month,” said Cody Cochrane, a team member at MOM’s in College Park.
Cochrane noted that since the vote occurred, MOM’s corporate has purportedly suspended pay raises for employees at the College Park market until the workers and corporate can agree on a union contract. He also voiced his co-workers’ concern that the central office had been offering employees fewer hours and said that the company’s rationale for cutting hours is that the store is underperforming. Laura Jackson, who works at MOM’s Naked Lunch eatery, said that the College Park store has been steadily surpassing sales goals and even setting company records.
“It’s hard working in fast casual food,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot of work physically and mentally dealing with people. We all have issues with our hands and wrists from food prepping constantly.” She said that she and her co-workers work hard to exceed their goals.
In order to see their unionization efforts come to fruition, the employees must engage in a series of bargaining sessions and arrive at a mutually agreeable contract for the workers at the College Park store. The members of the union asked for their initial meeting with corporate to be held in early April, in tandem with the other MOM’s unions’ meetings that are scheduled around the same time. According to Maydha Kapur, union organizer for UFCW Local 400, the company said they were not able to meet on any date before early May.
“MOM’s is a company that styles itself around caring for its workers, and we hope to go into bargaining in good faith,” says Kapur. “We want a fair contract, … and we would like a different tone than what was set during the union campaign.”