Bruegger’s Bagels employees launch new union in Iowa

Bruegger’s Bagels employees launch new union in Iowa

Current and former Bruegger's Bagels workers, along with supporters from Starbucks Workers United and others, picket outside of the Bruegger's Bagels location at South Riverside Drive in Iowa City to call attention to low wages and union-busting tactics by their company during a picket June 15, 2024. (Courtesy Bruegger's Workers United)

By Amie Rivers

June 18, 2024

Workers at Bruegger’s Bagels, a nationwide bakery chain, are trying to unionize. Surprisingly, the effort is starting in Iowa, a state with some of the fewest rights for workers in the country.

Juniper Hollis got a job as a baker at Bruegger’s Bagels at the start of 2024, and worked in Iowa City’s South Riverside location and in Coralville.

Early on, Hollis noticed that she and her colleagues had low, “pretty randomly decided” base pay. Plus, they couldn’t take any time off until they had worked there for six months.

Eventually, seeing how forming a union at the Starbucks in Iowa City had been successful, Hollis decided to start a similar one for Bruegger’s, even naming it similarly: Bruegger’s Workers United. She enlisted help organizing and spreading the word from the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee.

“I really don’t know what drove me to do it, other than I care about my coworkers and want them to have a better wage,” Hollis said.

Fighting for a union

Twenty-one full- and part-time workers at two Bruegger’s Bagels locations—one at 708 South Riverside Drive in Iowa City and one at 404 First Ave. in Coralville—filed a petition to form a union with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on June 3.

Workers had announced their intention to form the union May 29. Bruegger’s shut down its Coralville location on May 31, citing unspecified “maintenance,” according to Hollis.

But Hollis says the company’s pattern of anti-union activities makes her think it was in retaliation for trying to unionize.

Hollis said the company held “one-on-one conversations” with employees “about anti-union stuff” and “making work harder for them, making unionizing harder for them.”

Bruegger’s laid off Hollis at the same time as the Coralville store closed, even though she also worked for the Iowa City one. She also said she had heard through the grapevine that the company held “meetings discussing how best to handle me and get rid of me.”

“I know for a fact it was not about the store closing down,” she said. (The union says it plans to file unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB.)

From setbacks to inspiring hope

Hollis admits the closure of the Coralville store was a “setback.”

“It’s definitely intimidated a lot of workers and made them feel like they can’t be public about things because they feel there’s going to be retaliation against them,” she said.

But firing her hasn’t stopped Hollis.

She and others organized a picket outside of the chain’s South Riverside Drive location on June 15, which Hollis said “went well.” Unionized Iowa City Starbucks workers came and helped Hollis and other organizers with Bruegger’s come up with new ideas for further action, including a possible sit-in.

“We’re slowly regaining some morale with things like this protest we just had, protests going to be planned in the future, and also by seeing what’s going on in the news like with Starbucks’ union having some success lately,” Hollis said. “We’re kind of just trying to inspire hope in the workers right now.”

Hollis said those wanting to show solidarity can tip Bruegger’s employees (“that’s important because they’re not getting a fair wage otherwise”), and follow @brueggerswu on Instagram and Twitter (X).

“We’re feeling really good about it,” Hollis said of the unionization effort so far. “It’s not been an easy road, but things are looking up for us.”

  • Amie Rivers

    Amie Rivers is Starting Line's community editor, labor reporter and newsletter snarker-in-chief. Previously, she was an award-winning journalist at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier; now, she very much enjoys making TikToks and memes. Send all story tips and pet photos to [email protected] and sign up for our newsletter here.

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