Franklin Street Bakery accused of union busting

Making bread is not easy at Franklin Street Bakery, say employees who are trying to unionize in spite of alleged anti-union behavior by ownership.

Making bread is not easy at Franklin Street Bakery, say employees who are trying to unionize in spite of alleged anti-union behavior by ownership. Richard Sennott/ Star Tribune

Workers at Franklin Street Bakery say they go unpaid on holidays, don't have access to affordable health care, and have little opportunity for advancement.

Claims of low wages, no raises, and no time off for illness or bereavement are all mentioned in a video campaign launched by the AFL-CIO union federation.

One woman tells the camera she was hired to work for $11 an hour.

"They told me after three months I would get a raise of 50 cents more," she says, "but I never did."

It's an all too familiar tale for those who know working conditions in the restaurant and food industry. 

But employees and the AFL-CIO also claim their attempts to organize have been met with classic union-busting tactics of intimidation and retaliation.

Working in conjunction with the the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), employees of Franklin Street Bakery have submitted their complaints to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Bakery owners Mark Haugen and Wayne Kostroski told City Pages the AFL-CIO campaign is “outrageous,” but the NLRB has found that six complaints from bakery employees have merit.

Those complaints allege anti-union management moves such as:

  • interrogating employees about their union activities
  • creating the impression of surveillance of employees’ union activities
  • threatening employees with plant closure because of their union activities
  • implementing activities which prohibit employees from talking at work
  • threatening employees
  • sending employees home early for conducting union activity

These and other unfair labor practices total about 50 violations in all.

“And that [number] is pretty much unheard of,” says Chris Shields, communications director for the Minnesota AFL-CIO.

Other numbers to keep in mind about Franklin Street Bakery: When it opened in its current location in 2003, the bakery received $1.1 million in public loans, $650,000 of which came through city funding. (The feds put up the rest.) When the loan agency that had put together that package (totaling $4.5 million) collapsed, the city handed the remainder of the loan and the land the bakery occupied over to its owners. 

In 2006, Franklin Street Bakery received $75,000 in a commercial small-business loan from the city of Minneapolis to help revitalize the Franklin Avenue corridor. The loan was repaid in 2011. 

Its three outstanding public loans are being paid on time as scheduled under the terms of the agreements.

Once Franklin Street Bakery ownership received written notice from the NLRB, they have the option of proving to the labor board that they've changed their practices, or appealing the decision. If the NLRB finds that the bakery has not addressed the complaint, the business can be sued in civil court.

“But it usually doesn’t go that far,” says Shields.

According to owners, they haven't seen the NLRB findings, but said their lawyer informed them the labor board did not find merit to claims that employees had been fired in retaliation for organizing. The attorney informed owners the board cited "minor violations that relate to things like wording in our policies," and that's all.

In a comment to City Pages, co-owners Haugen and Kostroski said they're "proud of our record of service, partnership and job growth" in south Minneapolis. They continued:

"We have the utmost respect for each and every one of our remarkable employees... Contrary to the union propaganda, Franklin Street Bakery employees receive very competitive wages and benefits including over $13.60 average hourly wage, $1,000.00 per year attendance bonus, $500.00 referral bonuses, paid family time and sick leave that exceeds the new Minneapolis ordinance, affordable group health insurance, vision care, 401(K) with company contributions, advancement training on the job, and very specific wage increase opportunities.”

They also say employees have not filed a petition to hold an election, and believe there is "very little support among our employees for such a thing."

Shields countered that while he cannot make public the number of employees involved in trying to organize, it is a “significant” percentage.

Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy responded to Haugen and Kostroski’s statement by saying that contrary to their claims, bakery employees are reporting to organizers $11 hourly wages, monthly health care premiums of more than $200 per person, and just six days of combined sick/vacation time annually.

"The Minnesota AFL-CIO will continue to support both BCTGM Local 22 and these workers’ efforts to improve their working conditions," he added. 

Watch the video from the AFL/CIO campaign here: