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Union Kitchen employees in Ballston have officially unionized

Union Kitchen in Ballston (staff photo)

Union Kitchen employees, including those at the Ballston location, have officially won their election to form a union.

Yesterday (June 21), employees at five Union Kitchen locations announced that a majority voted in an election to unionize with the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400. This includes employees at the Ballston retail shop and restaurant located at 4102 Wilson Blvd.

The final count was 20 votes in favor of unionizing and 11 votes against.

The vote comes about five months after employees first announced their intent to form a union. The vote took place back in March, with the election being conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). But results were delayed due, in part, to management challenging the eligibility of a number of ballots, as reported by DCist.

The workers cited pay cuts, lack of sick leave, and staffing shortages as the major reasons for organizing. Also, they’ve alleged that management has retaliated against workers for unionizing, an act that would be in violation of federal law. By unionizing, employees will now be able to negotiate as a unit.

The union’s main requests when they go to the negotiating table will be to start pay at $22 an hour and to increase staffing by 20% due to the stores being “severely understaffed,” union organizing committee member and former Ballston employee Mckenna Willis tells ARLnow.

In a press release, UFCW Local 400 called on Union Kitchen’s owner to come to the negotiating table.

We are pleased to announce that Union Kitchen is now unionized! After management spent the last few months attempting to postpone this result, all votes have finally been counted. We won our union.

We would like to thank all of our customers, elected officials, community allies, fellow union members and supporters everywhere who never stopped believing this day would come. We know we can count on you moving forward.

Now, we call on owner Cullen Gilchrist to respect the outcome of this election, cease his delay tactics, and finally sit down with us to negotiate a union contract.

ARLnow has reached out to Union Kitchen management and Gilchrist, but has yet to hear back as of publication.

Union Kitchen first began as an accelerator a decade ago, helping food startups by providing expertise. It has since grown into being a retail shop and restaurant. The Ballston location opened in August 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, selling a variety of coffees, convenience items as well as a takeout menu with sandwiches, pizzas, salads, and breakfast.

When ARLnow first spoke with Willis back in March, she was working at the Ballston location. She’s now a former employee, after making the decision to leave the about two weeks ago. It had become a “really difficult work environment” and was “taking a toll” on her, she says. Back in March, Willis accused management of cutting her hours after a meeting where she brought up her concerns.

“We’ve all been waiting so long,” she said of learning about the unionization vote. “When I got the text, I almost started crying. So many of us put hours and hours of work into this. For the workers that are there, it means that they have representation and the power to not be scared anymore.”

The effort follows a nationwide and local trend of employees deciding to unionize. Employees at a Starbucks in Merrifield voted to form a union in April. Late last year, employees at the bookstore Politics and Prose in D.C. also voted to unionize. Just last week, Apple store workers in Towson, Maryland became the first employees at the company to unionize.

In recent months, she says that a number of customers have approached her and co-workers at the Ballston location to express their support.

“We’ve had just overwhelming community support from Arlington,” she said. “So many people have just stopped in to say that they’ve heard about the union… that’s what brings us our strength.”

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