Kalamazoo, MI. – If you drive by a Panera Bread Café on any given morning, you will be treated with the decadent smell of freshly baking bread and sweet goods, thanks to the artful skills of Panera Bread bakers. These bakers work from 10:00 p.m. each night to 6:00 a.m. each morning making sure fresh bread, rolls, cakes and other baked goods are carefully molded and baked in time for the early morning Café opening. And if you were in Kalamazoo early this morning, you may have heard the joyful screams of the Panera bakers celebrating their Union victory.
When the 18 bakers, who are employed by the Bread of Life Franchise which owns all Panera locations along the I-94 corridor of Southwest Michigan, decided they had enough of being improperly compensated as skilled bakers, they reached out to Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) through the union’s website, BCTGM.org. The Panera bakers were concerned with inadequate medical insurance, insufficient time off, unsafe working conditions and improvements to the bakeries that were being ignored by management. When 90 percent of the Panera bakers signed union cards, they approached management and requested recognition as a union.
No Money for Bakers but plenty for Union Busting
Rather than honoring their skilled bakers by recognizing them as a union, the owners of the Michigan Panera franchise, Bread of Life (a franchise of Panera Bread owned by Manna Development located in Encinitas, Calif.), hired a law-firm to delay a union vote by claiming the I-94 Division was not an appropriate unit. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled these bakers were indeed an appropriate unit and directed a secret ballot election be held on Thursday, March 22, 2012.
Bread of Life/Panera Bread also hired one of the largest known Union Busting Consulting firms to fight its own employees. “I felt like we were Prisoners of Panera, rather than Bakers of Panera,” one of the Panera bakers told BCTGM International Representative John Price. “They would work us all night and then force us to attend mandatory captive audience meetings in the morning.” Another Panera baker recalls, “They would keep us sleep deprived, hungry and then cram us with anti-union Panera propaganda.”
The workers held together through eight weeks of threats, intimidation and other tactics used by management in an attempt to pressure the workers to vote against the union.
Following the NLRB election on Thursday morning, which had voting at each of the six Panera café locations in Southwestern Michigan, the NLRB Agents counted the ballots and announced the bakers had won by a two-to-one margin to be represented by the BCTGM.
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