La Prima workers rally for better conditions

Last Wednesday, workers at on-campus La Prima locations held a rally outside Wean Hall to advocate for unionization. La Prima is a coffee company with five locations in Pittsburgh, including two on Carnegie Mellon’s campus. The rally featured speeches from La Prima workers who shared their experiences and why they plan to vote “Yes” on a union. The workers delivered a petition to unionize to their employer on Nov. 1, and a vote is planned for next Wednesday, Dec. 7. If the vote passes, the workers will join Local 1776 of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

A crowd of roughly 50 people, including La Prima workers, members of UFCW Local 1776, and students, gathered on the Mall to listen to these speeches. The first speaker was a worker at Coffee Tree Roasters, another local coffee company that recently unionized. He spoke about the issues they faced when forming a union and about the importance of their efforts. “While all of our campaigns are different, at the very core of them is our fight to keep our humanity as workers. How many of us here have had to go through the dehumanizing experience of choosing our health over paying rent? How many of us have been harassed at work and been offered no support and sympathy?”

The next speaker was Kit, who had worked at several of La Prima’s locations in their years with the company. They spoke about how working at multiple locations allowed them to observe a pattern. They experienced harassment from customers and their manager, and when they brought up these issues to management, their experiences were dismissed. The harassment included rude and misogynistic comments, and even a customer who attempted to rip off their mask. They also noted that this treatment made them reluctant to be open about the fact that they were a member of the LGBTQ community.

The third speaker was Nico, who shared his experience attempting to bring up the issue of healthcare coverage with their employer. He said that after reaching out via email, the company scheduled a meeting with a healthcare representative from Aflac on Sunday. However, when he showed up to this meeting, the promised representative was not there. After repeatedly reaching out, he had to learn not from Sam Patti, the owner, but from other employees, that they were not considering healthcare coverage because “not enough people want it.” The crowd found this laughable.

Lastly, attendees heard from Cecilia, who discussed the issue of wages. She spoke about the stress of trying to make ends while working for marginally above minimum wage, and the precarious nature of her income being little more than a “cost-benefit analysis” by her employer. She also shared an anecdote in which Patti scolded her for rinsing the steamed milk pitcher between uses because doing so might waste milk. To be clear, failing to rinse the milk pitcher is a violation of health codes.

Several of the speeches told common stories. They allege that earlier this week, Patti showed up, unannounced, at the La Prima location in Gates Hall, where he stood silently observing the workers for no clear reason — the workers agreed this was an intimidation tactic. Several also spoke about a letter they had received earlier that week, urging them not to vote for a union on the grounds that introducing a “third party” into the employee-management relationship was unnecessary. It was agreed that this letter comes thanks to the anti-union law firm their employer had hired.

The rally included rousing call-and-response chants, an appearance from the Secretary of the Treasury for the Pennsylvania Chapter of the AFL-CIO, and a performance of “Sit Down” — a protest song about the 1936 General Motors Strike. Across the speeches, several repeated the following sentiment: “United we bargain, divided we beg.”