Workers at Barboncino, located in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, celebrated their workplace becoming the first pizzeria to be unionized in New York City on Wednesday.
The union, which 26 workers unanimously voted to form, will now represent roughly 40 non-managerial employees, including line cooks, bartenders, bussers, and servers at the restaurant.
Barboncino workers have been organizing after a flood last summer turned into a more serious situation when workers walked off the job, and then felt their jobs were in jeopardy. Barboncino staff have told amNewYork Metro that the issue was just one of many in the service industry, and that they needed a better way to advocate for themselves.
John Collier, a part-time server and busser at Barboncino, said that the decision to unionize was fueled by the workers’ collective desire for a workplace that respects and honors the workers’ contributions.
“We’re doing this because we love this place, actually,” Collier told amNewYork Metro. “This restaurant means something to us.”
Inspired by labor movements around them, including Starbucks workers across the nation unionizing, several workers decided to form a union, called Barboncino Workers United. The union chose to affiliate itself with the larger Workers United labor union, which also represents Starbucks Workers United.
Barboncino workers are demanding higher wages, more control over their work schedules, clear disciplinary procedures and a “no tolerance” sexual harassment policy. The workers specified a starting wage of $25 per hour for back-of-house employees and $15 an hour for front-of-the-house workers.
Collier said wage increases and the possibility of benefits for full-time workers could be a significant lifeline for workers like himself who work multiple jobs to stay afloat.
“A lot of the people I work with have to forego going to the dentist for a toothache or going to the doctor for some condition,” Collier said. “That’s something that’s really hard to see. Everyone deserves to have access to those benefits and a wage that keeps up with the cost of living in New York.”
Andrea López, a server at Barboncino, is an advocate for a better sexual harassment policy and for a policy that ensures that workers are treated with dignity and respect, such as ensuring their basic needs are met.
“This union will not only fight for a living wage for our employees, but it will ensure that the people working on the floor every day get a say in their working conditions,” López said.
On Wednesday afternoon, several of the Barboncino workers gathered to watch the official vote count. Workers at the pizzeria had filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board on May 22.
Collier said that the workers felt “really confident” on Wednesday because they had gotten the majority of the Barboncino workers on board during the past year of organizing.
“We had a pretty strong feeling that we had won, but obviously still want to see it on paper,” Collier said. “At the end of it, it was an unanimous win.”
There were 26 votes from Barboncino workers in support of becoming a formal unionized workplace.
“We just felt a great sense of relief and pride about the work that we put in,” Collier said.
Mike Kemmett, a bartender at Barboncino, said that Barboncino Workers United now belongs to the larger labor movement in the United States.
“I’m proud to be part of the fight to bring order and justice to the nation’s fastest-growing, least-protected industry,” Kemmett said. “My heart belongs to Barboncino Workers United.”
Jesse Shapell and Emma Walton, co-owners of Barboncino who stepped into their roles last year, shared a statement with amNewYork Metro following the announcement.
“We are aware of the results of the election,” Shapell said.” We are reviewing the next steps of the process.”
Barboncino workers are now preparing to enter contract negotiations with the ownership. Collier said the workers “want to start as soon as possible with the owners.”
“We want to see change,” Collier said. “We’re eager to work this contract out quickly.”
Alex Dinndorf, a server and one of the lead organizers of Barboncino Workers United, said that the pizzeria will be the first with one or two shop stewards, who can act as union representatives for the workers. He described the unionization as lending itself towards a better working environment for current and future employees.
“Working at Barboncino will be like working for a guild, where discipline is highly contractual and workers have more protection from their superiors,” Dinndorf said.
John Johnston, a chef at Barboncino who likened his role to that of an artist, emphasized the importance of having a supportive work environment.
“Being overworked and underpaid does not foster the artist’s ability to create beautiful and delicious food,” Johnston said. “With higher wages and more job security the cook and artist is now able to explore the possibility of what pizza can be.”
Ike Fenner, a server at Barboncino, expressed his excitement over the victory and the example the pizzeria can set for others in Brooklyn.
“I am proud to be part of a model union that will inspire other service industry workers to exercise their rights and organize their workplace,” Fenner said. “This union has changed my life for the better. I can’t wait to see the work we have done help Brooklyn workers unite.”