After Unionization Attempt, Spyhouse Coffee Offers to Sell Cafes to Employees
Spyhouse Coffee’s Northeast shop Spyhouse Coffee

After Unionization Attempt, Spyhouse Coffee Offers to Sell Cafes to Employees

Workers say the proposal isn’t being made in good faith.
Spyhouse Coffee’s Northeast shop Spyhouse Coffee

In an unexpected turn Friday afternoon, Spyhouse Coffee’s owner has offered to sell his five cafes to workers who were attempting to unionize.

The offer comes after workers in August first announced plans to join Unite Here Local 17, a hospitality industry union in the Twin Cities.

“Spyhouse heard these requests and has decided to offer Unite 17 and the employees the opportunity to buy the five cafes and operate them as Union-owned and -run coffee cafes,” the coffee chain said in a statement sent to Twin Cities Business and other local media outlets.

Union leaders don’t think the offer is being made in good faith. Sheigh Freeberg, secretary-treasurer of Local 17, said the proposal is another attempt to curb unionization attempts.

“This feels like a real stunt,” he said. Had the owner been serious, “the best course of action would not be to send it to a bunch of news media before they talk to workers or the union.”

Freeberg added: “From the beginning, Spyhouse has done what they can to bust this union.”

He emphasized that the proposal doesn’t change worker’s plans to unionize. They’ll still go ahead with elections as planned, he said.

The proposal would come with its own set of legal implications, too. For instance, the union likely wouldn’t “own” the coffeeshops outright, though it could form a third-party entity that would secure financing for the purchase, said Marshall Tanick, a Twin Cities labor and employment attorney.

And of course, the arrangement isn’t entirely unheard of. Under an “employee stock ownership plan,” or ESOP, employees can own shares in their place of work. A year ago, Hell’s Kitchen owners passed ownership onto employees through an ESOP.

Still, even if workers decide to go along with Spyhouse’s offer, there are a host of other practical issues.

“The pivotal issue here is whether workers come up with sufficient financing to make this work, and that’s going to depend on the union being able to market themselves to a financing entity willing to invest,” Tanick said. “The union might not want to take on that debt.”

Meanwhile, workers aren’t making any firm commitments right now, Freeberg said.

“This is not what we were asking for,” added Matt Marciniec, a barista at Spyhouse. “We simply wanted the company to recognize the union, open up transparency, and give us a seat at the table.”

Spyhouse isn’t the only place where workers want to unionize. Over the last few months, there’s been a growing interest in unionizing among many hospitality industry workers. Observers say the pandemic is driving more interest in organized labor.