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Employees of a Third Massachusetts Cafe Group Join the Unionization Push

Workers at Somerville’s Diesel Cafe, Bloc Cafe, and Forge Baking Company are the latest to organize, following in the footsteps of Pavement Coffeehouse and Darwin’s Ltd.

Exterior of a coffeeshop with sort of an industrial vibe — lots of red brick and big glass windows.
Forge Baking Company in Somerville.
Forge Baking Company

An organizing committee of eleven employees of Somerville’s Diesel Cafe, Bloc Cafe, and Forge Baking Company and Ice Cream Bar have announced their intent to unionize the cafe trio’s workplaces, forming what would be the third independent coffee shop union in Massachusetts. Like predecessors Pavement Coffeehouse, which began to organize in the spring this year, and Darwin’s Ltd., which followed in September, the employees of Diesel, Bloc, and Forge — organizing under the name Diesel/Bloc/Forge UNITED — are represented by the New England Joint Board UNITE HERE. The union would represent approximately 50 employees.

Addressed to owners Jennifer Park and Tucker Lewis, along with COO Court Verhaalen, a letter from Diesel/Bloc/Forge UNITED cites the company’s mission “to create and foster a supportive community for all people that emphasizes clear communication and mutual respect,” stating that a union of the cafes’ workers is “our common blueprint for building that community” as well as “worker power, dignity, and justice” throughout the city and industry-wide.

More specifically, employees are reportedly seeking a framework for raises and promotions, among other changes.

“Looking to the future, we urge you to see that unionization is our company’s best option and greatest hope to achieve sustainability, establish stability, and engage our entire community with care and compassion,” the organizing committee writes, asking Park and Lewis to voluntarily recognize the union through a card check procedure.

Park and Lewis were not immediately available to comment on whether they’d voluntarily recognize the union — rather than pushing the matter to a vote supervised by the National Labor Relations Board — but earlier told GBH that they are “doing [their] best to dive in and learn the process and terminology as quickly as possible” and that they are “committed to making [their] workplace the best place it can be for [their] staff.” (See update below.)

In the cases of Pavement and Darwin’s, management voluntarily recognized the unions in a matter of days.

Several local representatives have expressed support for Diesel/Bloc/Forge UNITED, including U.S. Senator Ed Markey and Massachusetts State Representative Erika Uyterhoeven, who represents the 27th Middlesex district in Somerville.

“I am very proud of the workers of Diesel, Bloc, and Forge in Somerville, who are organizing a union and would like to extend a message of solidarity for their efforts,” wrote Markey. “Every worker deserves the protection, benefits, and power that comes with being a union member.”

“So excited that the workers of Forge Baking Company, Diesel Cafe, and Bloc Cafe are unionizing!” wrote Uyterhoeven. “So much love for the workers at these core coffee shops in Somerville. The groundswell of unionizing across the country, from big to small, is so inspiring.”

Diesel Cafe has been a Davis Square staple since 1999; Bloc opened in Union Square eight years later, followed by Forge in 2014.

Update, December 10, 2021: In a message posted to the three cafes’ social media channels on December 9, management announced its intention to voluntarily recognize the union if a majority of workers sign cards:

After careful consideration of the request in light of our values and principles, we have decided to voluntarily recognize UniteHere New England Joint Board as our employees’ bargaining representative if a neutral third party arbitrator confirms that a majority of our workers have signed union authorization cards. Over the past 25 years, we have worked to create spaces that support all members of our community, staff and guests alike. We look forward to collaborating with Unite Here! NEJB to protect and serve the best interests of our employees.

Forge Ice Cream Bar

626 Somerville Ave, Somerville, MA 02143

Bloc Cafe

11 Bow Street, , MA 02143 (617) 623-0000 Visit Website

Forge Baking Company

626 Somerville Avenue, , MA 02143 (617) 764-5365 Visit Website

Diesel Cafe

257 Elm Street, , MA 02144 (617) 629-8717 Visit Website