Bittersweet Victory For Wonderstate Workers

By Eric Timmons

Workers at Wonderstate Coffee’s Milwaukee cafe have won their unionization election but the victory was mitigated by news that the coffee shop is due to close indefinitely from Monday, Dec. 21.

Management at Wonderstate, which is headquartered in Viroqua, insist the decision to close the cafe is not linked to the workers forming a union, which they hoped to use to bargain for wages of $15 an hour.

“Our union win is bittersweet,” one of the Wonderstate employees told the La Crosse Independent. “I am of course excited and relieved, but these feelings are tempered by the cafe’s sudden closure less than a week after the election.”

Local management have plans to reopen the cafe at some point in 2021, but there’s currently no set date and the entire staff will be involuntarily and indefinitely laid off.

The workers’ union drive was supported by a local petition campaign in La Crosse and Viroqua organized by the Coulee Democratic Socialists with support from Our Wisconsin Revolution – La Crosse Chapter.

“The support we have received from communities within and beyond Milwaukee has been significant and I am so grateful for everyone who has reached out in support of our effort,” one of the Wonderstate employees said on Saturday.

Although Wonderstate did not openly oppose the workers, it also chose not to voluntarily recognize their union, a move employers rarely take. But, a majority of the workers officially voted to join Teamsters Local 344 this month and, despite the coffee shop closing for now, the union will remain for future employees.

A Teamsters union representative has already presented Wonderstate management with terms of agreement regarding layoff and recall language, ensuring that the members of the current workforce will be given the first opportunities to come back to work upon reopening.

“Without the backing of our union, our fates as workers would have been left solely in the hands of the owners and management team,” one of the workers said. “It gives me peace of mind knowing that I’m legally entitled to resume working at the cafe again when the time comes.”

T.J. Semanchin, a co-owner of Wonderstate, formerly called Kickapoo Coffee, told Urban Milwaukee that “the closure of the Milwaukee cafe is completely a result of the economic and health crisis. Keeping the cafe open with drastically reduced sales just wasn’t financially viable through the winter months.”

The Wonderstate workers viewed their union campaign as an expression of solidarity with workers at the larger Colectivo Coffee chain, who also have been attempting to organize and have faced resistance from management. One of the Wonderstate employees said they are hopeful future workers will benefit from their effort.

“While the closing affects what the union will look like over the next few months while Wonderstate is closed, the union will still be present for future employees and we are excited they will be able to benefit,” the worker told the La Crosse Independent. “This is particularly meaningful to me, because it gives baristas and bakers in Milwaukee the opportunity to practice the craft they love and have a union job, something that isn’t readily available in the Milwaukee coffee community. ”

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