Insomnia Cookies Strikers win Settlement

6 Mar

Insomnia Cookies Strikers win Settlement.

By Jake Carman

 

On March 3rd Insomnia Cookies and four striking workers agreed to a settlement of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) charges, officially ending a six month strike. The four workers, Chris Helali, Jonathan Peña, Niko Stapczynski, and Luke Robinson, struck on August 18, 2013, demanding changes at work, including higher pay, benefits, and unionization, and were fired immediately. According to the terms of the settlement, they will all receive backpay, totaling close to $4000, and have their terminations rescinded from their records. Insomnia Cookies will post a notice in their Harvard Square store promising not to fire or otherwise retaliate against workers for union activity, including going on strike. Additionally, Insomnia revised a confidentiality agreement, which improperly restricted workers’ rights to discuss their conditions of employment with one another and third parties (including union organizers and the media).

 

According to organizers for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the labor union representing the strikers, “This settlement is another small victory in a long struggle to bring justice and a union to Insomnia Cookies.”

 

When the four workers, comprising the entire night shift at the Harvard Square Insomnia Cookies, voted unanimously to close the store after midnight on August 18, 2013, they served cookies to the customers already in line, then locked the doors. They put protest signs in the windows, wrote up a strike agreement and informed their boss they were striking for a raise, health and other benefits, and a union.

 

Jonathan Peña, one of the strikers, remembers “feeling real conservative that August night, but something told me to stand up for what I believe in. I had nothing to lose but I had much to gain.”

 

The following morning they returned to set up a picket line, and reached out to the IWW, which sent union organizers to help. Within the first few days, all four were fired, and all four signed union cards. For the next six months strikers, IWW members, allies, and student organizations at both Harvard and Boston University held pickets, marches, rallies, forums, phone blitzes, and a boycott, while workers continued organizing at both the Cambridge and Boston locations. The union also pursued legal charges through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The March 3rd settlement comes two days before a scheduled NLRB hearing on the charges.

 

“Since the first utterance of the word ‘strike’ that late August night, it has been an uphill battle for all of us,” said striker Chris Helali. “The Industrial Workers of the World answered the call when no other mainstream union was interested in organizing a small cookie store in Harvard Square. We picketed, we chanted, we sang. I thank my fellow workers, the IWW and all of our supporters for their continued work and solidarity through this campaign. I am proud to be a Wobbly [IWW member]!”

 

Other outstanding issue remain unresolved between workers and the company. Wages, benefits, break-time, scheduling, safety, “independent contractor” status of delivery workers, the November 2013 firing of IWW member and Insomnia baker Tommy Mendez, and police violence against a picket line and resultant charges against IWW member Jason Freedman, top the list of grievances.

 

The union vows to continue organizing efforts at Insomnia Cookies. Helali says, “ I am extremely pleased with the settlement, however, it does not end here. This is only the beginning. The IWW along with our supporters will continue to struggle until every Insomnia Cookies worker is treated with respect and given their full due for their labor. There is true power in a union; when workers come together and make their demands with unified voices and actions.”

 

But for now, union members are celebrating. Peña says, “Being a part of the IWW means something to me. I will never forget the four amigos, Niko, Chris, Luke, and I. We actually made a difference. Being a Wobbly can change your life! I just want to really thank everyone for their solidarity and commitment to crumbling down on this burnt Cookie.”

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