NYC's First Unionized Pizzeria Shares Union With Starbucks

A year of labor action in the restaurant industry has seen another major milestone, as New York City's first unionized pizzeria has joined forces with Workers United, the same group that has worked to unionize Starbucks employees. The staff at Barboncino in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood first informed management of their intent to unionize in May and asked the shop to voluntarily recognize their union, per The New York Times. When that didn't happen, the process moved to an election, and on Wednesday, the staff voted unanimously to unionize, with over two-thirds of eligible voters participating. The workers will now have to negotiate a contract with the current owners, who took over the store in 2022.

Barboncino is a big name in New York and is considered one of the best pizzerias in the city. It first opened in 2011, and has gone on to be voted as the best food spot in the neighborhood. The owner sold the pizzeria last year to the shop's original manager and his wife, who today run it together. The union effort began last year under previous ownership after workers were made to continue serving customers despite also having to clean a sewage leak in the basement, which one employee told the New York Times was "a public-health nightmare." After new ownership took over, employees said they approached the new owners with a petition for a better process around sexual harassment and higher wages but were denied.

Workers United is asking Barboncino for harassment protections and better wages

In a statement from Workers United sent to Nation's Restaurant News, Barboncino server John Collins says he and his fellow employees are "fueled by our collective desire for a workplace that respects and honors our contributions to its success, as well as a commitment to raising the bar for the entire industry." The union will represent nearly 40 employees of the pizzeria. In addition to better wages and protections against sexual harassment, the workers are also hoping for health care assistance, protection from disciplinary measures taken against employees, and more consistent schedules. Barboncino employees also say that simply getting a say in the way the shop is run is also a big reason for the effort and that, as the first local pizza shop to unionize, they hope to set an example for similar movements in other restaurants and industries.

This news has come on the heels of fledgling union drives at a variety of different major chains. Worker's United has been the most prominent through its work, which has successfully unionized over 340 Starbucks locations. Peet's Coffee and Ben & Jerry's have also seen their first union victories this year, with both campaigns also supported by Workers United. While organized labor in food service is still in its early stages compared to the size of the industry as a whole, 2023 could go down as a major turning point where it really turned into a nationwide movement.