Colectivo workers push to unionize, intend to vote soon


Jamie Puppe

Collective Coffee on Oakland Avenue in Shorewood. Workers are attempting to form a union through the IBEW.

Colectivo Coffee employees have been working on forming a union since their cafes shut down for two weeks in March. The workers’ intentions to form a union comes from a desire to be represented in the company and have better protocols. 

Marie Matthias has worked at Colectivo for four years in a variety of positions, most recently Manager On Demand. She is currently not working due to the pandemic, which is one of the reasons she believes a union is needed. 

“I think we first need to create some better boundaries around COVID and how we’re dealing with all of that,” Matthias said. “And then second of all I think that there’s a lot of miscommunication going on between Colectivo and its employees about when things are changing at Colectivo.”

Other workers see a union as a solution, or a path to a solution, for other issues not relating to COVID. Isaac Danzer has worked at Colectivo for three years in a variety of roles from cafe staff to janitor. He currently works as a barista. 

“I really like to see it as kind of the collective voice of the workers who are involved in the union,” said Danzer. “So I think having some sort of representative of all of the workers that discusses … contract negotiation or conflict resolution with upper management, as opposed to individual coworkers who would meet with management individually. I think your voice ultimately accounts to a lot more because you have the comfortability of a lot more voices to back you up.”

I really like to see it as kind of the collective voice of the workers who are involved in the union,”

— Isaac Danzer, barista

Ripples reached out to all three Colectivo owners: Lincoln Fowler, Ward Fowler and Paul Miller. Lincoln Fowler was the only one to respond; he agreed to an interview and set one up, but then canceled it. 

In an email sent to all employees on August 19 –– signed by the owners and CEO Dan Hurdle –– the company officially opposed unionization efforts. The email was posted on social media and gained attention from users in Shorewood and the greater Milwaukee area.

“We are writing to let you know about this circumstance and share with you why we strongly oppose unionization efforts, for the good of the company and our culture,” the message said. “Unionization threatens who we are as a company … A unionized work environment would change and undermine what’s most special about Colectivo — our close and collaborative relationship with coworkers.”


The idea for the union started when workers made a petition to close the cafes in March and continue to pay the workers for two weeks.

“Us employees at Colectivo made a petition to close Colectivo and then pay us workers our wages for like the first two weeks we were off,” Matthias said. “So that was our first goal. And the petition really gained some traction, and so I’m pretty sure that made us employees [realize that] people are listening … and we have some power to make changes.”

Danzer feels like the idea has been under the surface for a while, but didn’t come to light until the shutdown.

“I think people have kind of had it, there’s kind of been energy for it for awhile now,” Danzer said. “At work we would talk about what [the] advantages would be of having a union … It’s always kind of been lurking around, it’s always kind of been something people would talk about. But it always kind of seemed pretty distant, like it’d be really tough to accomplish.”

Employees are working with the labor union International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). There has been some confusion about this decision, since Colectivo is a coffee shop, not electricians.  

“They were chosen because Colectivo is not just cafe employees,” Danzer said. “We have a bakery where we employ bakers, and people who manage the bakery. As well as warehouse workers and delivery drivers. All of those different faceted roles in the company, there’s experience within the IBEW to represent those unique situations.”

Matthias cites the reason for choosing IBEW as to create a broader support. 

“The goal of us teaming up with these union organizers [is] so that we can have [a] following that’s not just Colectivo people, because there wouldn’t be enough traction for that,” Matthias said. 

The union organizers are currently working on gathering support.

“Right now, I think the process we’re going through is like handing out authorization cards, and that’s how we will end up voting in the union election,” Matthias said. “And I think that [the union election] is going to happen in the next month or so, like this fall.”

“A lot of it depends on how strongly or how effectively our information campaigns are,” Danzer said. 

The group is meeting through distanced methods, and is working on informing coworkers. Once they feel there is enough support, they can have a secret ballot within the company. If 50% plus one vote are in favor, workers are able to start unionizing. 

We’ve really tried to reroute a lot of that energy to positivity,”

— Isaac Danzer, barista

Matthias feels that there are employees who support the union, but might be in a difficult situation of deciding the risks of doing it openly. 

“I think that almost everyone wants to be in support of it, but they’re also afraid of what will happen to their jobs if they openly support the union, because Colectivo is so special to a lot of us, and we don’t want that to change, but we also want to make some important changes within our jobs,” Matthias said. “But we also don’t want to get reprimanded or in trouble for supporting the union.”

Matthias and Danzer want to make it clear that, to them, unionization attempts are not anti-Colectivo. Some community members have come out against Colectivo, but that is not their goal. 

“We’ve really tried to reroute a lot of that energy to positivity,” Danzer said. “People can come into cafes, we’ve been trying to push people to order their coffee IBEW strong to show solidarity or even just say ‘Hey, we have solidarity with the workers’ when they come in. Things like still supporting the business, but demonstrating to the business that there is community support behind this process.”

“I love Colectivo, and I’ve had such a good experience there just in my life, but I think it’s important to note that we’re not unionizing because we hate Colectivo or we hate the owners or whatever,” Matthias said. “It’s because we want to keep it a place where we all feel safe and safe within our jobs. It’s to make things better, not to alienate anyone.”