A Major Seattle Sandwich Chain Fired a Union Organizer, Sparking Backlash—and Change

Workers at Homegrown voted overwhelmingly to unionize with UNITE HERE in late 2022. They’ve been fighting for a contract ever since.

Maximillian Alvarez

Homegrown workers on strike in February 2024. OurUnionIsHomegrown Twitter

Read the full transcript below.

Homegrown Sustainable Sandwiches, a Seattle-based chain, was founded with the mission of creating a more sustainable food system; however, as one former employee tells TRNN, Homegrown’s business model is not actually sustainable for their workers.” Workers at Homegrown voted overwhelmingly to unionize with UNITE HERE LOCAL 8 in late 2022, and they have been fighting for a first contract ever since. In fact, workers from two Homegrown stores have been on strike since late last fall in protest of the unfair termination of union leader Sydney Lankford, who was fired after speaking up at a union delegation. As of this week, workers at the Redmond Homegrown location have been on strike for over 100 days. We talk with Sydney Lankford and Perry, two members of the Homegrown workers union who are currently on strike.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The heat pay contract provision referenced in this conversation would guarantee time-and-a-half pay for workers if and when the in-store temperature reaches 82 degrees Fahrenheit, not 84.


This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Sydney Lankford: I’m Sydney. I’ve been working at the Redmond Homegrown, which is in the Seattle area, for about two years. In that time, I’ve been fighting for our union, and then our contract. I’ve been publicly on the organizing committee since the beginning. In October, I was fired, and I’ve been on strike for 98 days for my reinstatement.

Perry: I’m Perry. I work at the Southcenter Homegrown location in Tukwila. I’m a shift lead. I’ve been working at Homegrown Sustainable Sandwiches for about a year and a half. I’ve been on strike for 73 days in solidarity with Sydney. My coworkers and I have walked out of our job in protest to get Sydney her job back, to reinstate her, and we’re fighting for that fair Union contract that we’ve been in the trenches for for about a year since we won our union election last December of 2022.

Sydney Lankford: I’m also fighting for that contract.

Maximillian Alvarez: All right. Welcome everyone to another episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today, brought to you in partnership with In These Times magazine and The Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor and made possible by the support of listeners like you.

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My name is Maximillian Alvarez, and I could not be more excited to formally welcome you all to season seven of Working People. As you guys know, the season officially kicked off last week with our special episode commemorating the one-year anniversary of the horrific, devastating Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. But we thought it was important for that episode to focus just on the voices and stories of residents who are still living through hell one year after the derailment.

But I’m here now to let you all know that we are officially back and we’ve got really big plans for this season of the show. I am really, really grateful to be joined today by our guests, Perry and Sydney, who you heard at the top of the episode. They are current and former workers at Homegrown Sustainable Sandwiches.

But as we’re going to dig into today, Sydney and her coworkers are fighting not only for a union contract, but fighting to get her job reinstated after she was unjustly fired a few months ago.

As you heard from Perry and Sydney as well, workers at Homegrown Sustainable Sandwiches in the Seattle area voted overwhelmingly to unionize with Unite Here Local 8 in late 2022. They have been fighting for a first contract ever since.

Though you guys may not have heard about it until now, workers from two Homegrown stores have actually been on strike since late last fall in protest of the unfair termination of union leader Sydney Lankford, who was fired after speaking up at a union delegation. By the time you guys hear this, workers at the Redmond Homegrown location will have been on strike for over 100 days.

So that’s a huge deal. We’re talking workers picketing for over a hundred days, and yet the media coverage on this has been, let’s say, sparse. So what’s going on here? We wanted to talk with Perry and Sydney and take you guys, as we always do, to the frontlines of struggle to hear directly from the workers who were fighting the good fight.

So, Perry, Sydney, thank you both so much for joining us today on the show, especially with everything that you all got going on over there. I really, really appreciate it. I wanted to ask just by way of centering our listeners here who, as I said, may be hearing about your important struggle for the first time right now, where do things stand right now? What do folks need to know about what is happening with this strike as we speak on the week of February 5th?

Workers from two Homegrown stores have been on strike since late last fall in protest of the unfair termination of union leader Sydney Lankford, who was fired after speaking up at a union delegation.

Sydney Lankford: In September, we ran three-day strikes in six or so of the shops fighting for job security and healthcare, because we’re also in our contract fight. We’ve been in this fight for quite a while, and it’s very important.

Once we were back in the shop, my manager gave about eight write-ups in a month and a half span, which is more write-ups than I’ve seen the whole year and a half that I’ve been working at Homegrown.

One of my coworkers was written up for calling out or leaving early due to her medical issues. She had doctor’s notes for every time she needed to leave, which our manager said she didn’t need to give, yet still wrote her up for that. During this time of what felt like a rush of write-ups, I received my first two write-ups, and I had never been written up before this time.

Then in October, we were having staffing shortages, so my coworkers and I decided to delegate our manager, demanding that he hire more folks because we were losing hours. We were having to choose between closing early or working twice as hard for the same pay, and my coworkers know their worth. And so, most of the time we would be losing out on pay, which is totally messed up.

The next week, I was very blatantly unjustly fired. That same day, all my coworkers walked out with me to fight for my job. We’ve been on strike since, and in an amazing action of solidarity, our Southcenter coworkers joined us on strike as well.

Perry: When we went on strike at Southcenter Homegrown, the Redmond location had been on strike for about three and a half weeks. We went out on Black Friday last year, which was supposed to be the most profitable day that the company was expecting for our location, because we’re in the mall. We’re in the Southcenter Mall at Tukwila. And so, busiest shopping day of the year, and we shut it down because we wanted to see Sydney’s job back. We were really upset that a strong union leader like her would be fired for ridiculous allegations.

The thing that we were thinking over in our shop was, look, if they can fire Sydney, they could come after any one of us at our store, because we’re a really strong shop in our union and got some really strong fighters and coworkers over here. And if they could go after Sydney, they could go after any of us. And so, we decided we got to go out there with Sydney and stand in solidarity because this is totally unfair.

Maximillian Alvarez: Well, and of course we are talking together as this strike is ongoing, as you all are still fighting for that first union contract over a year after you voted to unionize. You are all in the midst of fighting to get Sydney’s job back. So just as a disclaimer to folks out there listening, there’s a lot here that is still in process, and for legal purposes, we don’t want to compromise anyone here.

So we’re going to do follow-ups on this story as things develop, but we thought it was important that you guys know that this is happening now and why it’s happening. Of course, we’re going to include more links in the show notes for you to look deeper into this struggle, where it started and what you can do to help.

But I wanted to go back to the beginning here, guys, and ask if we could take a step back and talk about where this all started, how we got from working on the shop floor as non-union workers in the service industry, which, as we know, has traditionally been one of, if not one of the least unionized industries and one of those industries that many unions in the past just gave up on and felt like there was never going to really be a stronghold of union workers in the service industry for reasons that we’ve talked about on this show for years.

They are typically looked at as low-wage, transient jobs that people don’t have for a long time. So it’s hard to build a union campaign. All the lingering cultural misconceptions that we have about service work as being only done by people in high school or people with a part-time job.

I think we’ve come a long way over the past few years to people recognizing that none of those are as true as we thought they were, and also none of those are a good excuse for workers not getting paid what they deserve, having the job stability that they deserve, and exercising their right to unionize, as we’ve seen workers from Starbucks to Chipotle to you all trying to exercise that right. I think that that’s really exciting to see after so many years of not seeing it in the service industry.

I wanted to ask if you could take us back to before you all voted to unionize. Talk to us more about what that work entails, like how you got into working at Homegrown, what Homegrown is. I guess, for those of us who don’t live in the Pacific Northwest, give us a little sense about what that job entails, what the clientele’s like, what you all do on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. Give our listeners a sense … People who have never worked at Homegrown themselves. Let us know what it’s like for you all and how that work began to percolate discussions amongst you all about unionizing.

“It’s a pretty big fact of life that anyone who works here and supports themselves are only a few paychecks away from homelessness.”

Sydney Lankford: I started working at Homegrown for their reputation of sustainability. They’re called Homegrown Sustainable Sandwiches. What I realized after a bit of time of working there is they’re not actually sustainable for their workers. We make sandwiches and salad bowls. It’s a cafe style restaurant. We have self-serve kiosks. That’s how we run the place. Very normal food service stuff. We have cleaning chores. We all learn every single station. That’s how it goes.

Perry: Imagine like a really fancy Subway/​Quiznos/​Panera Bread all bundled into one. We serve hot sandwiches that we make all behind the line, in addition to the salads that Sydney mentioned. We also have soups and stuff. The whole premise is that the food is supposed to be really high quality. It’s really marketed as organic, a really wholesome type of product. And so a lot of the customers go to Homegrown thinking that they’re going to be getting a sandwich that’s sustainably made, that’s good for the environment, that this business is a good steward to nature and to the environment. And so, part of getting a sandwich made with high quality ingredients, the customers come thinking that they are being ecologically responsible. But as Sydney mentioned, a lot of the work that we do is not very sustainable for us, as the workers, day in and day out. It’s a really tough job making thousands of sandwiches every day. The Homegrown itself is also not just a restaurant side, but there’s also a whole catering business in addition to a wholesale production that we can talk more about later.

But there’s also a back of house kitchen that does large scale orders. Most of the storefronts, it’s usually younger folks like ourselves who are making the sandwiches and salads for people who come in for their lunch break or for dinner rush. But then at the location I used to work at before Southcenter, which was the Mercer Island location, you had a whole production kitchen in the back, which was mostly older adults, immigrant workers with families and kids, and they would work early mornings to the afternoons making sandwiches and salads for huge parties and corporate orders and stuff like that. And so there’s multiple sides to this business that isn’t just the cafe, restaurant storefronts.

Sydney Lankford: I want to also add that, Perry, you talk about how families work here, as well as people who just support themselves. This is their job, this is how they make their livelihood. And if we’re talking about what it’s like working at Homegrown, Homegrown’s base pay is 16.75 and Seattle area rent is super high. So it’s a pretty big fact of life that anyone who works here and supports themselves are only a few paychecks away from homelessness. We don’t get tips on DoorDash, which is the most profitable revenue stream for the company. And in an eight-hour workday, we only get two 10 minute breaks. And if we choose, we can clock out for a 30-minute break. But many of us don’t choose that, because we have bills to pay. So in an eight-hour day, most of us get 20 minutes to sit down and take a breath.

And even then, before we fought for better ventilation, the smoke in the store was so bad, it would be hard to breathe sometimes. Our oven used to rest at 575 degrees Fahrenheit. We had coworkers who were having symptoms ranging from burning eyes to asthma attacks and dry heaving in the bathroom. We got an air quality monitor at the beginning of our union campaign to get a measurement of what we were already feeling inside our bodies, which is that the air quality monitor was reading at like 200 parts per millimeter as soon as we turned the oven on, 300 as we started making sandwiches, and then 400, 500 all the way up to 900, 1000 during peak rush.

And the healthy levels for good breathable air is below a hundred ppm. So, that’s pretty awful. And then the shop also gets super hot, and I know, Perry, you have this at Southcenter as well, the AC just doesn’t work really well. And so during peak summer, it’ll get up to 80, 90, 100 degrees in the shop. And we used to have to decide whether we should open the doors to let in warm air, so we can get the smoke out of the shop, or stay just a bit cooler and just breathe in a bunch of smoke filled air. And of course, when it gets too hot, the smoke won’t even leave when we open the door. So, it’s just something we’re living with. And yeah, that sucks. And workers should not have to deal with a choice like that.

Perry: Yeah. To paint a really vivid picture, I started working at the Mercer Island location, that was the first shop I worked at. This building that the store was in, it was in a strip mall, didn’t have functional AC. It was like a token AC system. And so, Seattle has this reputation for being a relatively cool place. If you’ve never been to Seattle, you’d think that it rains all the time, that the summers are really mild, that it’s only 75 degrees at the height of the summer. Well, when I started working there around the late spring, summer of 2022, this was the first time when Washington and Western Washington and Seattle have been experiencing extreme heat waves due to climate change. We have a fire season every summer and autumn now. And so the stores would just get up to extreme temperatures like 95 one day. And Mercer Island is a busy store. We would get hundreds of orders within 30 minutes during the lunch rush.

And I remember my coworkers and myself just behind the line, just sweating, dripping behind the line. And I had coworkers who had to walk to the bathroom and they would just huddle there, feeling nauseous. And I remember shaking every single day that I was working in that kind of temperature. And every time we asked, When can we get functional AC? When can we get working AC?” We would get nothing. They would say, the management would tell us, Oh, we’re so sorry. We will do our best.” And all they would do is put these little tiny battery powered fans or these really pitiful fans around the store, which would do nothing. But then we can’t even get the air to flow, because of the fire season, like I mentioned. And so when the wildfires come in, you can’t open the doors, you can’t open the windows or else you’re just going to be choking on the ash from outside.

And so climate change has really affected Seattle and it’s no longer this cool, moderate climate place that everyone thinks it is. It’s just like everywhere else in the country that is experiencing extreme climate catastrophe and environmental disaster. And the company has taken no responsibility for giving us a safe workplace. I, myself, almost felt like I was going to pass out. I had to go stand in the fridge with my coworkers for an extra 15 minutes on one of those really horrible days in the summer. And those are just some of the many things that we’ve been fighting for change over. That’s why one of the reasons why we wanted to unionize is because it’s not fair to us to be working in these extreme environmental situations when the company keeps putting forward this image that it’s environmentally responsible.

Maximillian Alvarez: And then on top of that, you add what Sydney was saying, the fact that you’re doing that work for a wage that means that you can basically barely afford rent in a place like Seattle. And to say nothing about the inflationary costs that we’ve all been dealing with for the past two years, the cost of living keeps going up. This is really making me have traumatic flashbacks to the different service jobs that I worked in the past. I’m thinking about those hot kitchens when I was a waiter in Chicago. I’m thinking about in Southern California when I was working at a pizza place and the air conditioning broke down and I wanted to just… I thought I was going to quit right there, because I was like, How is anyone supposed to survive, and let alone how are we supposed to make food in a place where we’re all sweating our asses off and the cook is about to faint?”

But this is par for the course. This is what so many service industry workers go through on a day-to-day basis and have gone through for years and years, and decades and decades. And yet, as I mentioned before, the thought of workers in that industry, taking that step to do something about it, to organize collectively and exercise their right to unionize, to negotiate with management a better contract that puts in writing that, Hey, we need these working conditions for people to be able to work here safely and to do so without putting their health at hazard, so that we can retain good workers and we don’t lose workers, because of all the turnover that happens when you’re dealing with working conditions like this.”

I wanted to talk about that. I wanted to basically ask if you guys could talk us through how the union drive itself grew and how you all landed on this as an option, because I’ve shared this story many times on this show. Back when I was doing my service industry jobs, to say nothing of the warehouse jobs and factory jobs and what have you, I never thought that there was another option for me besides stay and deal with it, or quit and go and try to find some other job. But that of course has been changing in recent years and it’s been really exciting here on the show to talk to so many folks like yourselves who are making that change happen. And so I just wanted to ask where that came from, what the discussions about unionization were? Were you seeing the Starbucks stores, or hearing about Amazon? Or was this something that y’all came up with on your own? Just tell us a little more about where the unionization drive got started and how it grew to the point that you successfully voted to unionize in late December 2022?

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Sydney Lankford: For me personally, why am I fighting for a union? One of my favorite chants that we do, and it’s taken a while to get to chants like these, is, Homegrowns worried about profits and losses. We want power, take it from the bosses.” And that is a great, great description for the awakening of your working class consciousness, that we should not settle for what we’ve been handed, that we fought for an eight-hour day. We fought for this, that, and the other, and we can fight for so much more. And that is where the union drive came for me. We started talking to our coworkers about unionizing in May of 2022, and then secretly, we got folks signed up on union cards. When we were at a super majority, we went public. We had a big delegation at the corporate office and demanded voluntary recognition.

Perry: I had been working for Homegrown for a couple months when I started hearing about folks wanting months when I started hearing about folks wanting to unionize, I was all for it. For one, I was already seeing a lot of mistreatment at work at Mercer Island. A lot of my coworkers were feeling pushed around to perform really hard on super busy days and making just so much product for the customers while the pay itself just wasn’t great. On top of the weather getting warmer and warmer in those early months, folks were just being burned out and everyone was talking about needing a change. And I remember my shift lead at the time, my coworker, she was approaching everyone in the shop talking about, Hey, we’re tired of working these long hours, this hard for this little pay. We deserve so much better. And we’re talking about forming a union, organizing.” And I was super excited. I’d always heard about unions being really cool and I’ve never been a part of one.

But the mood in those couple of months before it went public was pretty electric. We were just meeting altogether outside of work in Mercer Island talking about what we wanted to see changed. This was even before it got really hot, but we were talking about how… I think it was the summer of 2021. It was a really hot year in that summer too, plus COVID, right? People who were working at the time were really sickened by the heat, but also really worried about their health. And so we were talking about having a healthy and safe workplace at our shop at Mercer Island in addition to fighting for better pay because we heard that other food service jobs in Seattle that were unionized could make up to $20 an hour or $21 doing the same type of work that we were doing, but we were only making a little over 16 bucks.

Maximillian Alvarez: Just to make sure that listeners got that basic information right, you all and your coworkers at Homegrown on the cafe side, you all voted to unionize with an overwhelming majority in December of 2022, and that was a month after workers at Catapult Northwest who were on the distribution side of this, voted to unionize as well. Do I have that right?

Sydney Lankford: Yes.

Maximillian Alvarez: Okay. And so that’s, again, incredible that y’all in the service industry won this union election in 2022 as a pandemic is still going on. That’s an incredible feat in and of itself. But as we know, sadly, labor law in this country sucks. And the deck is overwhelmingly stacked in favor of the bosses when it comes to workers not only achieving an NLRB Union election, but then going… That’s kind of where the work just gets started because then you got to get to that first contract. And there are so many ways that management can stall at the bargaining table, can delay, can demoralize, can frustrate that momentum that workers have.

I mean, we’re here talking in February of 2024. None of the Starbucks stores have a first contract yet. The Amazon Labor Union does not have a contract with Amazon yet. I mean like Pittsburgh Post-Gazette workers have been on strike for a year and a half, and management is just stalling and breaking labor law, not bargaining in good faith because they can, because the lack of enforcement of labor law in this country means bosses can basically do whatever they want with very minimal repercussions. Meanwhile, workers like yourselves are fighting tooth and nail to get the contract that you deserve.

So I wanted to focus in on that side of things really quick. And again, when I say bosses can stall at the bargaining table, they can break labor law, I’m speaking generally, right? I’m speaking as someone who talks to different kinds of workers around the country week in, week out. So I’m speaking for myself there. I’m speaking in general terms based on what I have seen, based on the examples that I just gave. I’m not necessarily saying that that is what Homegrown management is doing here. I will leave you all to give us the information that you can about how bargaining is going over there.

But as we know, workers who are trying to unionize and get to that first contract have a very steep uphill battle. That’s what I’m trying to get across. And you all have been trying to get to that first contract for over a year now. So I was wondering if you could just give our listeners a bit of a sense of what you are really fighting for to get in writing with this first contract. What are the key issues that you’re trying to enshrine in that union contract, and how has bargaining been going over the past year and few months?

Sydney Lankford: Yeah, we’ve been fighting for a contract for a year, and we’re not going to win everything that is rightfully ours. We make way more value for the company than they will ever give us back. But we have a really kick-ass contract so far. We’re currently fighting for the last two things, which are my reinstatement and successorship, successorship that matches the length of the contract. So, we’re super close.

Perry: I can talk a little bit about some of the things that we’ve gotten in our contract negotiations so far, but also talk about why it took so long to get to this point.

Sydney Lankford: Hell, yeah.

“Homegrowns worried about profits and losses. We want power, take it from the bosses.”

Perry: So when we first went public with forming a union in June 2022, that summer, the company was doing everything they could to basically ignore us and avoid us as much as possible. They pretended like, Oh, we hear you, we see you, and we’re so sorry that you don’t feel good about working here.” Basically saying, Please don’t form a union, but here’s 50 cents.” Or I think it was like 25 cents, a raise. They gave us 25 or 50 cents after we went public, and they refused to recognize our union for that entire summer and fall, even though we were demanding voluntary recognition. We had to call an election and that’s why we had to vote in December of 2022 and overwhelmingly won.

But that whole time, the company was just pretending like we didn’t exist, that we were just a bunch of crazy folks who were a bunch of radicals and trying to ruin a good thing because so many other service jobs that try to paint a good public image, they say like, Oh, we’re family. You can always come to us if you have issues. You don’t need to organize or to form a union. That’s like a third party that just wants to get in the way of our relationship. We may not give you any assistance when it’s hot. We may not give you any fans or working AC in the stores when it’s scorching hot outside in the summer, but please don’t form a union. We love you as our workers.”

But the thing that we were fighting for was the right to not work on extreme heat days, the right to get our hours covered when it’s over 85, 90 degrees in the store. Or if we did work on a hot day approaching those temperatures, we would get double pay or time and a half. We were fighting for tips on our DoorDash orders because DoorDash is such a huge thing in the industry now. There are hundreds of orders that are through DoorDash, and we get no tips on any of those. There’s a very narrow window that you can get tips on those orders, and the majority of those orders are just, you get no tips.

So we’re making basically hundreds of sandwiches and salads for free compared to the in-person orders. We were demanding tips on our DoorDash orders. We were demanding a higher base pay so that we would be able to survive living in the Seattle area. A lot of our coworkers are commuting from far out of the Seattle Metro from cities that are 30, 40 miles away, like an hour long commute where rent is a little cheaper just to work at Homegrown. And that was just horrible for them, those long commutes, but also just for such paltry pay. But this was everywhere in the industry. And so the way we were thinking about it is, we honestly, we could just go and leave and look for another job elsewhere, but where else would be any better? This is the food service industry, and this is where so many of us are just at right now. Why not fight for a fair contract and protections?

Another thing that we fought for was protections for our coworkers who are immigrants, who are worried about being retaliated against by the management. They’re fearful that ICE could get sent on them. We also fought for better health standards, so air quality monitors. We’re fighting for air filters in the stores, like actual smoke eaters that will take the dirty kitchen air and process it and make it a lot more breathable for us. We also are fighting for fair discipline rules because we could get written up for literally anything, like there’s no consistency in how rules are enforced, and sometimes management would pick on coworkers and bully them. I had a lot of coworkers at the stores I worked at that felt terrible every day because the managers would single them out for really petty things, and they had no way of protecting themselves. There’s no shop stewards that they could go to, to say like, Hey, I’m being mistreated by the management. I’m being bullied, being told to work harder and faster for nothing basically.”

This one time my manager at Mercer Island, this was the first or second week I was working there. There was no reason to be rushing. It was a really calm time at the store, but my manager, for some reason, felt comfortable enough to turn to me and whisper into my ear like, By the way, I told those folks at the other end of the line to speed it up just because I wanted to.” And she laughed at me and it was like, why did you feel comfortable telling me this? What kind of place is this talking about sustainable sandwiches and they’re treating the workers this way. These are some of the things that we’re fighting for for protections in our contract, a lot of which we have now in our bargaining, but it’s taken so long because it took a year to get to union recognition. And then it’s been a year since we started negotiating and it’s been a very slow process, which Sydney can talk about too.

Sydney Lankford: Yeah, Perry, we fought and won pretty much everything that you talked about, except for the exception of the AQI monitors, but everything else we won, just pretty kick ass of us if I do say so myself.

Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah, by which you mean these are bargaining items that have been agreed to?

Perry: Yeah.

Sydney Lankford: Yeah, they have been TA’ed.

“There are hundreds of orders that are through DoorDash, and we get no tips on any of those.”

Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah. That’s amazing. I mean, to hear that these are issues that you’ve been fighting for at the bargaining table and that these are now items that have been approved in the contract that you’re working out. So we are sending all of y’all our love and solidarity as you continue to fight to get that first contract finalized, to get it instated and also in the fight to get Sydney’s job reinstated. So I wanted to just build on that and round the final turn here because I’m so grateful to you both for taking this much time to talk to us. But I know you’re busy. It’s a Sunday night.

I’m still in quarantine with Covid, but overall doing all right, but if folks are listening and wondering why I sound a little weird, that’s why. But just to wrap things up here, I just wanted to ask if we could circle back to where things stand now and also what folks out there in the Seattle area, so folks who are near you all, where can they go to support you on these pickets? What can folks online do? What can folks listening do to support y’all in this fight? And do you have any parting words that you want to leave listeners with before we wrap up?

Sydney Lankford: Just to hop back really quick to a point that Perry talked about in our contract, we won heat pay, which we get when it’s over 84 degrees in the shop, we get time and a half and over 86 we get double time, which means it encourages the company to actually make sure that the AC works and not something, I’m not sure any food service workers have seen in their union contracts and many other people, which is amazing.

Maximillian Alvarez: So the heat pay that you guys got in the contract, again, you’re still finalizing the contract, but this item to address the heat conditions that we talked about earlier means that you’re going to get paid time and a half when it’s 84 degrees in the store and you’re going to get paid double time if and when it’s 86 degrees. That’s really incredible. I don’t recall hearing a similar contract provision, especially in the service industry. I’ll definitely go and check, but that’s what you’re describing. That you have time and a half or double time pay pegged to how hot it actually is in the store.

Sydney Lankford: Yeah. Yep.

Maximillian Alvarez: That’s really remarkable. So I just wanted to underline that for listeners and I’m glad that you brought us back to clarify that because I do think that that’s a really, really significant advancement in this struggle to get that contract. So kudos to you all and hell yeah. Just I guess take us around the final turn. Where are things now with getting to that first contract, getting Sydney’s job back, and what can folks out there listening do to help?

Perry: So even though we’ve won pretty much everything we want in our contract, aside from successorship right now, the last thing we need before we can feel good about signing the contract is to get Sydney her job back because we don’t want to go back into a shop where we go back to work after the strike with a contract and our co-worker, Sydney is not with us. That’s basically what’s been holding up the process is that the company has been refusing to give you your job back.

Sydney Lankford: Yeah. Ways you can support are making this really public. Post this on Instagram @homegrown, say that you support workers, that you want my reinstatement back, that they’re not allowed to fire union leaders for helping organize.

Perry: Yeah. Well, the help that we need right now is support with our community strike fund on GoFundMe. That’s been keeping a lot of us afloat during the strike. We get strike pay from our union, but it’s not always enough. One thing that’s really kept us moving is the community support from other unions, other folks who want to be in solidarity with us, helping us to keep the lights on basically as we’re out there every day, rain or shine in the Seattle winter and autumn on strike. We also have a community petition too. That petition is going to go directly to the company, to the CEO, Brad Gillis, where the community can voice their support to reinstate Sydney’s job back so that we can just get back to work knowing that strong union leaders like Sydney are protected and can’t be pushed around by this company.

So after we won our election, it was start of 2023 started last year. The company had been using a union busting firm to really try and shut us down to stall out the negotiations, but we kept fighting hard throughout all of last year to have good faith negotiations and things took a really long time to get to where we’re at, which is unfortunate. We could have had a fair contract start of last year, but the company had been spending so much energy trying to shut us down to divide us to use their lawyers and their union busting firm to basically liquidate us. But we held strong and we actually struck a few times. Over the summer when it got really hot we walked out over heat and smoke and that really pushed the company to really concede on a lot of things because we really hurt their bottom line, which it was so crazy to see it happen in real time.

One moment they’re like, Oh, we’re giving you all that we can. This is the best final offer we can give you.” Then we went on strike for the heat and the smoke and they’re like, Actually, we can give you all these things now.” And we were like, Oh wow, okay.” So going on strike and fighting hard and struggling in the shop really delivers the goods and moves the needle. So many times where the company would just say like, Oh, this is the furthest we can go. We’ll never be able to get you a $20 base pay.” Now we have a $20 base pay. We’ll never give you heat pay. Now we have heat pay. We’ll never give you all sorts of different things. But we got them through fighting and struggling and being persistent by never letting go of our co-workers, like making sure we all stayed unified.

We all stayed together to fight the hardest that we could for this contract. And another thing too is that we’re really excited about this contract, we want to see change across the entire industry, not just here at Homegrown. And the way that we’re seeing things develop now is like other unions or other shops within Local 8 Unite Here are sibling unions from other food service shops. They’re seeing what we’ve got on our contract. They’re seeing the heat pay and they’re saying, Hey, we want that too. We want that in our contract.” And if we could set a precedent in not just Washington, but around the country of what the standard for a unionized food service job could be, that’s what we want to see. That’s the change we want to see, not just here at our shops, but around the whole industry. And so that the working class in this industry has a fighting chance.

Sydney Lankford: That’s the revolutionary spirit, Perry. I like it.

Maximillian Alvarez: All right gang, that’s going to wrap things up for us. I want to thank Perry and Sydney from Homegrown Workers Union for talking to us today. And as always, I want to thank you all for listening and thank you for caring about this. We’ll see y’all back here next week for another episode of Working People. And if you cannot wait that long, then go subscribe to our Patreon and check out the awesome bonus episodes that we’ve got there waiting for you and for our great patrons, and go explore all the great work that we’re doing at The Real News Network where we do grassroots journalism that lifts up the voices and stories from the front lines of struggle here in the US and around the world. You can sign up for The Real News newsletter so you never miss a story. Help us do more work like this by going to the​re​al​news​.com/​d​onate and becoming a supporter today. This is Maximillian Alvarez signing off. Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Solidarity forever.

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Maximillian Alvarez is editor-in-chief at the Real News Network and host of the podcast Working People, available at InThe​se​Times​.com. He is also the author of The Work of Living: Working People Talk About Their Lives and the Year the World Broke.

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