Tag Archives: strike

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to the terms of the settlement, they will all receive backpay, totaling close to $4000, and have their terminations rescinded from their records.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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Insomnia Workers End Strike with Settlement, Declare Victory

4 Mar

Insomnia Workers End Strike with Settlement, Declare Victory

For Immediate Release

March 4, 2014.

Contacts: Geoff Carens, (Organizer) 617 803 4221, geoff.carens@gmail.com

Jonathan Peña, (Striker) 857 200 5575, jonathanfpena@gmail.com

The Industrial Workers of the World (Union) 617 863 7920, iww.boston@riseup.net

…something told me to stand up for what I believe in. To me, this victory was worth every bit of the struggle.” – Jonathan Peña, IWW union member and Insomnia Cookies Striker.

On March 4th, 2014, Insomnia Cookies settled National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) charges with four workers who were fired after going on strike in August 2013 for changes at work, including unionization. The workers, Chris Helali, Jonathan Peña, Niko Stapczynski, and Luke Robinson, members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), have voted to accept the deal. The strikers will receive backpay totaling over $4000 and have their terminations rescinded from their records. Insomnia Cookies will hang a poster in their Harvard Square store stating that the company is union-neutral and will not fire workers for union activity. The settlement comes the day before a scheduled NLRB hearing between with company and the workers over charges that the company illegally fired the workers for protected union activity.

The four workers, who comprised the entire night shift at the Harvard Square Insomnia Cookies on the night of August 19th, decided to strike for “$15 an hour, benefits, and to organize a union.” For the next six months the strikers, other IWW members, allies, and student organizations at both Harvard and Boston University held pickets, marches, rallies, forums, phone blitzes, and ran a boycott campaign, while workers continued organizing inside the two area locations.

“Since the first utterance of the word ‘strike’ that late August night, it has been an uphill battle for all of us,” said 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)!”

Jonathan Peña says, “I remember just 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. Being apart 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.”

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 unified voices and actions.”

More details of the strike and quotes from the union can be obtained at:

http://iwwboston.org/tag/insomnia-cookies/

Strikers Deliver Demands to Insomnia Cookies; Company Targets Union Member

27 Oct

(Article first appeared at CradleofLibertyNews.org. For photos, check iwwboston.org)

 

Strikers Deliver Demands to Insomnia Cookies; Company Targets Union Member

By Jake Carman

On Thursday, October 24th, striking workers delivered a demand letter to the Harvard Square location of Insomnia Cookies. Niko Stapczynski and Jonathan Peña—who were fired after declaring a strike with two other employees on August 18th—and fifty members of their union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), visited the late-night cookie chain at 10 P.M. In their letter to management, the workers demanded reinstatement with back pay, compensation for nearly $1000 in short paychecks and withheld lunch breaks, company neutrality to the union and a card check election, and an end to the practice of forcing employees to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The union is threatening to turn these demands into legal charges if Insomnia fails to respond within two weeks.

Also on October 24th, Insomnia baker Tommy Mendes, who still works at the Harvard Square Insomnia location, declared to management that he, too, had joined the IWW. Mendes sent an email to his boss, simply stating “I just wanted to let you know that I’m a member of the Industrial Workers of the World.” While Mendes joined the IWW soon after his coworkers began their strike, according to the union, he only recently “made the courageous decision to go public and has announced his union affiliation to his manager…in part due to intolerable pressure and threats on the job.” The company suspended Mendes immediately, and the union promises to fight what they call “unlawful retaliation for his union activity.”

The public struggle at Insomnia Cookies in Harvard Square began at midnight on August 18, when the entire four-person night shift voted to initiate a strike for higher wages, healthcare, and freedom to form a union. Peña, Mendes, and coworkers Chris Helali and Luke Robinson—who have since moved out of state—closed the shop, contacted the IWW, and began holding pickets and building connections with Harvard and BU student organizations. Pickets have since spread to the new Boston University store.

Workers claim Insomnia has a bad track record when it comes to following labor laws and fairly compensating their employees. According to the demand letter, “For months prior to the strike, workers employed as ‘drivers,’ had not received minimum wage. Also, employees often did not receive the 30 minute meal break for shifts longer than 6 hours, to which they are entitled by MA State Law.” Drivers, who deliver cookies by bicycle until 3 A.M., and rely on tips to pad their $5 and hour wage, complain the company has unrealistic expectations of delivery times, and pressure from management causes unsafe riding and accidents. Whats worse, according to the union, “Insomnia does not give paid time off when drivers get hurt on the job, and instead blame them for the accidents.” The company doesn’t offer health benefits to the workers either.

Before the strike, the average turnover rate for a local Insomnia employee was only three weeks. The droves of Boston-area Insomnia workers who have recently quit the job, as well as the firing of the company’s regional manager—in part due to his inability to keep his stores staffed and functioning—attest to the aptly-named Insomnia work environment. Insomnia, which has 33 locations on college campuses across the US, sustains itself only by exploiting students two-fold: as employees, where they are underpaid, barely trained, easily-replaceable, and overworked, and also as consumers, where they are sold frozen cookies at unjustifiably high prices. In order to hold Insomnia accountable and to end the company’s reprehensible labor practices, IWW members are encouraging workers nationally to join the union, and if they are planning to quit already, to go on strike.

Ways to Get Involved:

 

-Dont Quit, Strike! http://iwwboston.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/dont-quit-strike.jpg

 

-Donate to the Insomnia Strike Fund:

https://www.wepay.com/donations/insomnia-cookies-workers-strike-fund

 

-Sign the petition to support the strikers’ demands:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1TLCetxHNxmGHk57FD1Sy9KAtUNHXP5alQWrgxPcb-Lk/viewform

 

-Find us Online: https://www.facebook.com/insomniaunion http://iwwboston.org/

 

To reach the Boston IWW:

Email: iww.boston@riseup.net

Phone Number: 617-863-7920

Mailing Address: PO Box 391724

Cambridge, MA 02139

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BostonIWW/

 

 

Striking Workers at Insomnia Cookies Join the IWW

11 Sep
Hey all, check out this article I wrote for the Industrial Worker (due out next month).
Also, support Insomnia strikers by joining their rally tomorrow night at 8pm at the store’s location, 65 Mnt Auburn St, Cambridge: https://www.facebook.com/events/1405934196300747/
or by donating to their strike fund: https://www.wepay.com/donations/insomnia-cookies-workers-strike-fund

Striking Workers at Insomnia Cookies Join the IWW

By Jake Carman,

 

At 12:00 am on Sunday, August 18th, the night shift at the Harvard Square Insomnia Cookies voted unanimously to initiate a strike for higher wages, healthcare, and freedom to build a union. On Tuesday, August 20th, all four strikers joined the Industrial Workers of the World, and launched a public campaign to achieve their goals.

Insomnia Cookies, with 30 locations in the US, caters to college students and runs late night deliveries of warm cookies and milk to dorm rooms. Delivering cookies until 2:45 am, Insomnia workers who double-duty as bakers and cashiers receive only $9 an hour. “Drivers,” who are expected to deliver cookies by bicycle within a half hour, receive only $5 an hour plus tips. Neither receives healthcare and the turnover is so high, the typical employee lasts only a month. As Niko Stapczynski, a striking driver at Insomnia, told the Industrial Worker, “I was being paid below minimum wage. We had no breaks because we were understaffed. Sometimes we’d work without breaks until 3:15 am. We were supposed to keep delivery time as fast as possible, which encouraged unsafe riding.”

Peak hours are late at night when college students return from parties. As the lines of customers thickened on the evening of Saturday, August 17th, Chris Helali noticed his coworkers were stressed. “I gauged the overall feeling that night and people were pretty down. I basically said guys lets go on strike. It took about an hour to get everyone to agree and to figure out what we were going to do.” The entire night shift—four workers, Chris Helali, Jonathan Peña, Niko Stapczynski, and Luke Robinson—used the store computer to type up a strike agreement, and made signs for the store’s windows. Then, Helali continues, “we told the customers we were going on strike. Some of the customers asked ‘can we at least get a cookie before you close down the store?’ So we said sure, why not. We served everyone in the store. Then we went outside to put up the signs and lock the door.”

At 3 am the regional manager, who runs the only Insomnia Cookies in Massachusetts, arrived to file the paperwork to fire all four strikers. He then called Luke Robinson to threaten him with a lawsuit for “violating contractual obligations,” says Helali. The store did not open again until 1 pm on Sunday, August 18, two hours later than usual.

Picketing began that morning at 10 am, and all of the strikers were on the line by 11 am. The police, according to Helali, “came about eight or nine times and told us to stay away, do not bother the store…They said we’d be arrested if we went inside. They told us to stay on the center median, about thirty feet from the store, or we would be arrested.” While workers have a legal right to picket on the sidewalk outside their store, so long as they remain moving in a circle or otherwise, the police, called in by the boss, intimidated the workers.

That afternoon, members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) arrived to lend support. Helali, who reached out to the IWW, said, “I knew that the IWW in Boston was pretty militant and was ready to go straight to action, as opposed to some of the business unions who probably would not even come or try to organize us. I knew the IWW would do everything in their power to help us out. So I decided to reach out on the Facebook page and post about our strike.” One organizer arrived around noon, and by 3:30 pm five others had arrived. On Tuesday, all four strikers joined the IWW and held a meeting with union organizers.

On Thursday, the strikers and their union held a march from the Harvard Square T Station to the store, with fifty IWW members and allies, including Harvard dining hall workers, members of Harvard Student Labor Action Movement, Common Struggle/Lucha Común, Boston Solidarity Network, and others, participating.

Insomnia workers marched to their shop again on Monday evening, following a union rally against racially-motivated firings at Harvard University, organized by Harvard No Layoffs Campaign, led by “dual card” members of the IWW and the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUTCW). Jonathan Peña addressed the crowd. Around 50 people, including students from the Harvard Student Labor Action Movement, joined the march from Harvard to the Insomnia location, surprising the manager and leafleting the public.

While the workers at Insomnia had not joined a union prior to striking, some workers had been discussing workplace conditions, unions, and strikes for weeks. According to Helali, he and other workers “would speak about the issues that pertain to our job and the conditions there. I heard a lot of the other workers’ gripes, what they wanted to be changed, how they felt they were treated. I tried to gauge the general overall feeling, and concerns of the workers. It prompted me to eventually put the idea out for a strike, as a joke at first maybe about two weeks before the strike. I’d sort of casually say, hey we should go out on strike. Why not?”

Along with low pay, no benefits, and unrealistic expectations on the part of the company, workers complained about a lack of breaks. According to Helali, “Customers would flood in and sometimes we’d have to have all of us up front helping. It was constant on our feet. Rarely did we get an opportunity to sit down and relax.” It was the pressure of the crowd of hungry customers that finally drove these workers to strike. However, in not contacting the union prior to striking, and not organizing the day shift to join the strike or union, the strikers began at a disadvantage. With dedication to their cause and plenty of support from the IWW and other allies, strikers hope to overcome the obstacles in front of them and turn Insomnia Cookies into a job worth having, and to spread the union to Insomnia Cookies locations across the country.

The Insomnia strike began just a week and a half before a national wave of fast food workers’ strikes organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). On Thursday, August 29th, fast food workers across the country participated in a one day strike for a $15 minimum wage, highlighted in Boston by a 4 pm rally at the Boston Common. As Jonathan Peña told the Industrial Worker, “we want to show solidarity with the struggles of other fast food workers, because their fight is our fight.” Insomnia workers were present at the Fight for Fifteen pickets in Boston beginning that morning at 6 am, and ending with an evening picket at Insomnia in Harvard Square at 6 pm.

While half of the striking Insomnia workers have moved from Boston this September, the other two workers are continuing to plan public demonstrations and discuss unionization with their coworkers, Harvard students, and other service workers, while they pursue legal charges against their employer for withholding breaks and back pay and failing to meet minimum wage.
The company opened a new location on September 2nd near Boston University at 708 Commonwealth Avenue.

For updates and information on how to contribute to the strike fund or get involved, please visit https://www.facebook.com/insomniaunion or http://iwwboston.org/.

Rally to Support Insomnia Strikers!

21 Aug

Tomorrow, Rally at 6pm in Harvard Square!
https://www.facebook.com/insomniaunion       https://iwwboston.org

Striking Workers at Insomnia Cookies Demand Higher Wages, Benefits, and a Union! All strikers have been illegally fired for their pro-union efforts, and have joined the Industrial Workers of the World. They need your help to win!

 Schedule for Tomorrow (Thursday, August 22)
12noon – Picket Begins at the Harvard Square location, 65 Mt Auburn St  Cambridge, MA 02138.

2pm – Sign and banner making for the evening rally (come to picket to participate in sign-making.) Bring materials if you can.

6pm – Rally! Meet near the main entrance of the Harvard Square T stop. We will march to Insomnia. Bring everybody you can!

Background:
At 12:00 am on Sunday, August 18, the night shift at the Harvard Square Insomnia Cookies voted to initiate a strike for higher wages, healthcare, and freedom to build a union. Insomnia Cookies, with around 30 locations in the Northeast and Midwest, caters to college students and runs late night deliveries of warm cookies and milk to dorm rooms. Still delivering cookies until 2:45 am, Insomnia workers who double-duty as bakers and cashiers receive only 9$ an hour, while “drivers,” who are expected to deliver cookies by bicycle within a half hour, receive only 5$ an hour plus tips. Neither receive healthcare, at a job where turnover is so high, the typical employee lasts only one month. Insomnia workers have had enough, and they need your help if they can win their jobs back and achieve their goals.

Insomnia strikers have all joined the Industrial Workers of the World, and the workers and their union have held pickets for the last four days at the Harvard Square location, 65 Mt Auburn St  Cambridge, MA 02138.

Check the Boston IWW website, or the Insomnia Union facebook for updates: http://iwwboston.org/   https://www.facebook.com/insomniaunion

Remembering the Angelica Strike

10 Dec

In remembrance of the victorious strike that began three years ago today.

Angelica Workers Win Strike

The Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement Newsletter, Issue # 29 – January 2010

After a five day strike beginning on December 10, 2009, the largely immigrant workforce of Angelica Textile Services in Somerville won a new contract with benefits and higher wages. Angelica, a billion dollar company with over five thousand workers nationally, counting on its board the likes of Jeb Bush (George’s brother and former Governor of Florida) had stalled negotiations with the Somerville workers. The workers, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1445, were asking for a one dollar wage increase, more company contribution to the healthcare plan, and an extra dime an hour for the pension plan. They voted to strike on December 1. As Local 1445 representative Fernando Lemus told the Boston Globe, they were willing to “sacrifice this Christmas” because “the cost of living is so high.”

Five days later, the company offered a new contract. Hundreds of workers and supporters from other unions and Centro Presente (an immigrant workers center across the street from Angelica) had maintained picket lines from 6 A.M. until midnight. The workers voted to sign the contract, ending their strike and declaring victory. Supporting unions, according to the Party for Socialism and Liberation, included: “the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 35; the International Brotherhood of Operating Engineers, Local 877 Area Trades Council; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 2222; the American Federation of Government Employees; Unite Here, Local 26; and the Teamsters, Local 25.” Along with the outpouring of support, Local 1445’s impressive unity and resistance to the bosses’ attempts to divide them contributed to the overwhelming victory.

 

From “Nine Years of Anarchist Agitation: The History of the Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement and Other Essays” by Jake Carman