Darwin’s Workers Announce Unionization Effort

Margaret Unger, Metro Editor

On September 15th, staff at Darwin’s Ltd, the sandwich cafe local to Cambridge and outside of CRLS, announced their intent to unionize. CRLS graduate Eleanor McCartney ’15, an employee at Darwin’s and a member of the union, Darwin’s United, told the Register Forum in an email interview, “We organized a union so that we can have a voice in our workplace. A union empowers us to collectively address issues in our workplace, ratify these changes through a contract, and improve the working conditions of all current and future employees of Darwin’s Ltd.” With the CRLS open campus policy, students have frequented Darwin’s Cambridge Street location, one of four in Cambridge, for years.

If the unionization is successful, Darwin’s will join Pavement Coffeehouse as another independent cafe to unionize in Massachusetts this year. In their initial letter to Darwin’s management, Darwin’s United wrote, “A partnership among us will strengthen the business while better supporting the staff—for it is through collaboration, not proclamation, that we excel.” Darwin’s United is represented by the New England Joint Board Affiliate of UNITE HERE, a union representing “hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, transportation, and airport industries,” according to their website.

We organized a union so that we can have a voice in our workplace.”

When workers unionize, ownership has the option of voluntarily recognizing the union through a card-check procedure if a majority of workers sign union cards. On September 20th, Darwin’s Ltd announced on their Instagram page, @darwinsltd, “If the Union has a written support from a majority of our employees, Darwin’s will recognize the Union and begin negotiations for a contract.”

Since then, Darwin’s United has gained majority employee support. McCartney expressed to the Register Forum, “We are grateful for voluntary recognition and we look forward to engaging in vigorous conversation with management at the bargaining table.”

During the past year, restaurant workers have faced unprecedented struggles due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a sector only able to operate in-person, employees have had to weather personal exposure risks while enforcing safety policies for the business. McCartney described how the pandemic both “magnified” the challenges of the food industry and “introduced new ones.” CRLS student Elise Economou ’23 commented to the Register Forum, “I definitely feel a lot for restaurant workers because especially now, it’s a very difficult time for them… I’m happy that people in (and out) of the industry are finally seeing how hard a field it is.” Darwin’s has and will remain a staple of the Cambridge community, but these negotiations will shape the business for years to come. CRLS student Elena Serpas ’23 explained, “Right now is the time to be listening to Darwin’s workers.”

McCartney shared Darwin’s United’s vision for the future of Darwin’s with the Register Forum, saying, “We hope our reimagination of the ‘standard’ working conditions in food service can set an example for others to advocate for themselves and their communities,” adding, “Unionizing allows us to ensure that for the next 30 years, every employee of Darwin’s is guaranteed a safe working environment that serves as a constructive force in their lives and that empowers them to engage joyfully and meaningfully with life in Cambridge.”

This piece also appears in our October 2021 print edition.