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Lake Wine and Spirits fires workers in alleged union-busting

Workers thinking of forming a union were offered raises; some were later fired anyway.

Workers thinking of forming a union were offered raises; some were later fired anyway.

Lake Wine and Spirits, the popular five-year-old liquor-and-cheese shop in south Minneapolis, fired nearly a third of its workforce after employees attempted to form a union.

Union organizer Abraham Wangnoo confirmed that several Lake Wine and Cheese employees were let go shortly after they filled out union cards and began organizing with the help of UFCW Local 1189, the food and commercial workers union that helped unionize the Wedge Co-Op employees in November.

The union has helped employees file charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

"We want to make sure justice is served here and that these companies honor the rights of workers," Wangnoo said.

Lake Wine and Spirits has made a lot of fans since opening five years ago, including City Pages: The store has been awarded "Best of" honors in the Best Wine Store, Best Cheese Shop, and Best Cheap Wine Deal categories in years past. 

Wangnoo said the owner of the store, located on Lake and Grand in the Lyn-Lake neighborhood, made moves to block the formation of a union once he became aware his workers were organizing.

"As soon as the company was made aware of the campaign, they started holding one-on-one meetings."

Workers were then offered raises, terminated, or both, Wangnoo said. "Some of these people were actually offered raises days before they were let go."

Wangnoo said axing 30 percent of the staff makes this a fairly extreme example of union busting. Nearly half of the roughly 15 employees had filled out union cards, according to Wangnoo, and until the employees were fired, they were poised to bring hold a vote on whether to unionize or not. Wangnoo said the next step for the laid off employees is public demonstration: A small group of employees picketed outside the liquor store Friday evening.

The store's owner, Binh Le, was not available for comment. Le also owns Metro Liquor Warehouse in St. Paul, and co-owns an airport concessions group called Aero Service Group that's active in the Twin Cities, Baltimore and Des Moines