Fired Workers IWW Continue Fight to Unionize Insomnia Cookies
Cambridge, Mass. - Over 30 members of the Industrial Workers of the World and allies held a picket outside the Insomnia Cookies store in Harvard Square on Thursday evening as part of their ongoing campaign against the growing dessert chain after it fired four employees in August for attempting to form a union.
The protestors spent almost two hours onsite chanting slogans like "No Justice, No Cookies!" and booing the few people that crossed the picket line in front of the store's only public entrance on Mount Auburn St.
According to Geoff Carens, a delegate for the IWW Boston General Membership Branch, "The IWW organized the picket to call attention to the poverty pay and miserable conditions of employment that Insomnia Cookies workers endure. We want to give courage to workers inside the store, and support the strikers who have been terminated. Ultimately our goal is to unionize Insomnia Cookies. We are collaborating with students at Harvard and elsewhere to spread the message about Insomnia. We are actively engaged in the building of a union together with current and former Insomnia employees."
The Harvard Square Insomnia workers went on strike on Sunday, August 18th for higher wages, better working conditions and healthcare benefits. At that point, counter help was paid $9/hour and delivery people ("drivers") $5 an hour plus tips. Massachusetts minimum wage is currently $8 an hour for regular employees, and $2.63 an hour for tipped employees as long as management raises the wages to the normal minimum wage if tips fall short. The workers also maintain they were often illegally forced to work without breaks due to understaffing.
Insomnia management fired the strikers the next day. All four fired workers joined the IWW on August 20th and asked for assistance in their unionization campaign. The union organized a series of public support actions that have garnered attention in the press, and filed Unfair Labor Practice charges against Insomnia with the National Labor Relations Board - indicating that the company had said they fired the workers for organizing a union, a protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. Negotiations with the company are ongoing, but it remains to be seen if Insomnia will reinstate the fired workers with back pay - and if the company will agree to unionization.
The fired workers indicate that they will keeping struggling for a union at Insomnia even if they are not reinstated.
Jonathan Peña said, "I'm continuing to fight because I want to leave a mark for the next people to come. I want them to see the your voice is never unheard."
The IWW is providing some strike pay for Peña and the other workers via a national strike fund. Carens handed Peña the first check at the conclusion of the picket.
The picket was peaceful. There were no incidents and no arrests - although there was an unusually heavy police presence of as many as seven Cambridge police officers in two cruisers and an SUV on hand for the much of the event.
Insomnia Cookies management did not respond to a request for comment by Open Media Boston.