Two smiling people wearing black, one in an apron and one holding a "We Support the Peet's Labor Union" sign, stand in front of Peet's. Planter boxes and the store's name are visible behind them.
Kimberly Solis, a barista who has worked at Peet’s for about six years, and Liz Rico, who joined three weeks ago, are among the workers attempting to unionize the Southside Berkeley location. Credit: Zac Farber

Workers at three Peet’s Coffee locations in Berkeley and Oakland have started a union drive.

The workers, who are hoping to join the Industrial Workers of the World IU 460, filed three petitions for union elections with the National Labor Relations Board on Friday. The organizing workers at the Southside Berkeley, Temescal and Piedmont locations said in a press release that they have experienced “wage stagnation, understaffing, and unsafe working conditions,” and hope unionizing will help them secure improved working conditions, better pay and benefits and more worker autonomy.

Mary O’Connell, a spokesperson for Peet’s Coffee, wrote in an email Monday that the store plans to follow the process outlined by the National Labor Relations Act. “We will adhere to the process at every step of the way and will be listening directly to the concerns of our employees, as we always have,” O’Connell wrote.

Peet’s Coffee’s first store opened in the 1960s in North Berkeley (the shop is still open), and there are now 331 locations in the U.S., with most in California. 

“I have worked at Peet’s for nearly six years, and my coworkers and I have had to constantly work through unsafe conditions, such as biohazards, [as well as] alongside vermin and physical and verbal attacks from the public,” said Kimberly Solis, a barista at the Telegraph and Dwight location in Southside Berkeley, in a press release. 

Solis cited deteriorating working conditions as the reason turnover rates at the store have been higher than the usual two to three per month. “The climate at this store has been so toxic that in the last month we’ve had six people quit,” Solis told Berkeleyside.

Solis and the other organizing workers are part of a nationwide barista-led labor movement. In January, the North Davis Peet’s became the first Peet’s store to unionize, voting 14-1 to join the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, the San Francisco Chronicle reported

The downtown Berkeley location of Starbucks voted to unionize in August 2022, joining Starbucks Workers United. More than 200 Starbucks locations have filed petitions for union elections as of May 2022, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

“I think the whole coffee industry needs some unity,” said Liz Rico, a team member at the Berkeley store, who noted she’s encountered similar challenges at her previous coffee store jobs. 

Liz Rico takes out the trash on Friday. Credit: Zac Farber

Workers involved in the organizing efforts said cost-cutting measures at Peet’s have turned what once was a “small-batch specialty roaster” into one that more closely resembles a multinational coffee chain. 

When Alfred Peet, a German labor camp survivor whose family used to run a coffee roasting business in the Netherlands, opened Peet’s Coffee’s first North Berkeley location in 1966, he sparked a craft coffee movement — one that Starbucks imitated (with Alfred Peet’s permission) five years later when it opened its first coffee shop in Seattle. 

“Within a year and a half [of Peet’s Coffee’s opening], lines stretched around the corner,” author Mark Pendergrast wrote in his coffee history book Uncommon Grounds. “Peet’s was hip. Peet’s was groovy. Peet’s was the place for hippies to hang out.”

Berkeleyside Managing Editor Zac Farber contributed reporting to this story.

Iris Kwok covers the environment for Berkeleyside through a partnership with Report for America. A former music journalist, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Classical Voice, among other publications. In her spare time, you can find her petting street cats or playing cello. She joined Berkeleyside in June 2022.