Business

Pavement Coffeehouse owner supports employee unionization

"Now may not be the easiest time for any of us to be having this conversation. But since we are, let's figure it out."

Manager and barista Jacob Yona pulls a "Cortado" iinto a double-shot style glass at Pavement Coffeehouse. JOSH REYNOLDS / BOSTON GLOBE

Two weeks ago, Pavement Coffeehouse workers sent a letter to founder Larry Margulies expressing intent to unionize. In a recent commentary published by GBH, Margulies went into detail about why he’s supporting his employees, though he’s still anxious about the outcome.

As someone who started in the business as a recent college graduate, Margulies said he feels a lot of camaraderie with his employees. In the end though, he said, he’s not one of them, and would probably have done the same thing in their shoes.

“I’m the boss. And in the eyes of a lot of people today, bosses are part of the problem,” he wrote. “As someone who supported unions all my life — and voted for Ralph Nader and Bernie Sanders — I get it: Gen Z watched their parents get crushed by the financial crisis a dozen years ago. They are sick and tired of not being heard as rents triple and college debt soars 1000% while our social safety net frays.”

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Margulies is still extremely concerned about what unionization could mean for the future of Pavement. Without the Paycheck Protection and Economic Injury Disaster Loan programs, he said, Pavement would have closed. Revenues were down 80% at the height of the pandemic, and are still down 40%, he said. Pavement is losing $1,000 a day, one location and their bakery remains closed, and less than half of workers have been hired back.

“The single worst day of my life was when Gov. Charlie Baker announced the state was shutting down and I had no choice but to let go of 174 people,” he wrote. “I’m not ashamed to admit that I wept. It seemed like the whole world was coming to an end. I felt like I failed myself and everyone who depended on me — my wife and two daughters, my employees.”

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The unionization process is still underway: New England Joint Board UNITE HERE Communications and Political Director Mitch Fallon told Boston.com the next step is to call in an independent third party to carry out a card check that ensures a supermajority of workers want to unionize. The company has agreed to a card check and will abide by the results, a Pavement spokesperson said.

“Can unionization help us make common sense changes that empower employees while also recognizing that post-COVID restaurants are fragile? Can it help us work better together as a team and still be profitable as a business? And above all, can it help us stop seeing these issues as a zero-sum game where if one side wins, the other necessarily loses?” Margulies wrote. “I don’t know the answers. And now may not be the easiest time for any of us to be having this conversation. But since we are, let’s figure it out.”

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