The storefront of Peet's Coffee and Tea shows customers drinking coffee at the window counter and leaving the shop.
The Peet’s Coffee and Tea on Dwight Way and Telegraph Avenue unionized, along with two shops in Oakland and on Piedmont Avenue. Credit: Zac Farber

Peet’s Coffee now has three new union shops after workers voted to unionize Wednesday, hoping to increase wages and benefits and combat unsafe working conditions.

Workers celebrated two unanimous decisions in favor of a union at Berkeley’s Southside store and in Temescal. At the Piedmont Avenue store, the union won by one vote in an 8-7 election.

Dan Li, an employee at the Southside Berkeley store, said the union would help establish “workers’ autonomy,” including “being able to ask for protections against harassment and more resources, and having someone to advocate for us.”

The union will represent 20 employees at the Temescal store, 17 in Berkeley and 15 in Piedmont. 

“We respect the outcome of the vote, and it in no way changes our commitment to our people. Our story began here in the Bay Area and we look forward to writing the next chapter together with our employees,” Mary O’Connell, Peet’s’ communications director, wrote in a statement.

Multiple workers at the Berkeley store said they have seen customers harass employees, propositioning baristas and asking them invasive questions. Once, they said, a customer threw luggage at a worker. Another time, a customer threw hot water on an employee.

They hope a union can put in place rules to protect baristas from harassment and assault at the workplace, like banning customers who repeatedly behave inappropriately.

O’Connoll said Peet’s can’t comment on specific incidents. “We are committed to providing a safe and healthy work environment for our employees, contractors, and customers,” she wrote in a statement.

With a union, workers hope to negotiate raises for new hires; at the Berkeley store, some make the city’s $18.07 minimum wage. They also want to make it easier for employees to qualify for benefits. Currently, employees must work 21 hours per week to earn company benefits, but many are not assigned enough hours, they said.

“I think sometimes us workers don’t see this as an injustice because we’re so used to it,” said Claudia Renero, an employee at the Southside coffee shop. She believes a union will help workers recognize problems and provide structure for addressing them.

Some workers said they have already seen a positive change since they filed for election last month. “There’s already been a few instances of us requesting things for management and being able to have those resolved and fixed before the election,” said Kimberly Solis, who has worked at Peet’s for five years.

Workers said they were inspired to unionize after seeing other successful union efforts at other coffee shops and local retailers, including one other Peet’s in North Davis, California. 

That Peet’s union was approved in a 14-1 vote in January 2023 in an effort to protect employees from burnout and chronic understaffing, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Starbucks coffee shops around the country have also unionized, including locations in Berkeley and Oakland. The downtown Berkeley Starbucks voted to join Starbucks Workers United in August 2022.

Workers will join Industrial Workers of the World IU 460, along several other retailers in Berkeley that recently unionized, including Moe’s Books and Urban Ore.

The first Peet’s coffee shop opened in Berkeley in 1966. Started by Alfred Peet, a German labor camp survivor whose family ran a coffee roasting business in the Netherlands, the shop sparked a craft coffee movement in the United States.

The Berkeley City Council passed a resolution Tuesday supporting the union drive at the Peet’s.

“Peet’s Coffee has been an integral part of Berkeley’s history and culture ever since it
opened its first store on Vine Street in 1966,” the resolution read. “The unionization efforts at Peet’s Coffee play an important role in furthering that support for workers at a company with such a rich history in Berkeley and the Bay Area.”