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Bagelmakers consider collective bargaining

Malcolm Augat
Bodo's employee Malcolm Augat thinks a union would be good for workers and the company.

On any given day, Bodo’s sells thousands of bagels at one of three locations. The line moves quickly, an army of employees filling each order in a matter of minutes. Malcolm Augat went to work there three and a half years ago after leaving grad school.

“I’d heard great things, and at that point I’d been eating bagels for a good six or seven years. My whole metabolism was geared to bagels.”

He likes his bosses and his co-workers, but the pandemic and a shortage of labor has made the job more stressful.

“There’s a period of short staffing. People are doing one and a half jobs, they get burned out, they leave.”

He thinks Bodo’s could solve that problem by paying more than the $16 hourly wage now offered to start.

“The cost of living in Charlottesville has always been high," Augat explains. "Based on the living wage calculators I’ve looked at, it jumped 20% last year.”

He says a living hourly wage in this town is just under 19 bucks, and Augat hopes to get that with help from the United Food and Commercial Workers.

“We pushed for voluntary recognition, which is when you go to the boss and say, ‘Hey, a majority of workers at the store have decided they want to unionize. Are you willing to do that, and we can just sit down and start negotiating?'" he recalls. "They absolutely did not want to do that and refused to meet with us.”

Augat figures Bodo’s could afford to pay more by boosting its charge for a bagel by ten cents. He hopes employees will vote on whether to unionize this summer.

When asked for their thoughts on this subject, owners Scott Smith and John Kokola wrote:

"We've just received notice from the National Labor Relations Board this afternoon that there has been a petition for election filed by United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400 to determine whether they will represent the staff at our University Avenue store. We'll respond as quickly as possible to set a date for an election."

"We've always tried to support all of our employees with good pay, benefits, schedules that provide the flexibility they need, owners who are available for concerns (and work in the stores alongside employees), and a positive work culture. And we absolutely support the right of our employees to decide whether or not they want union representation: we want every employee to have a voice in that decision. Whatever their choice, we will embrace it and work hard to make it work for them."

"As the pandemic began, we extended ourselves to provide for our employees as business rapidly declined, particularly at our Corner location. Through it all, no one was laid off and no hours were cut, and the store has finally started to recover. We also added a sick pay benefit (3 days for employees working under 30 hours, 5 over 30, and 7 for 40 or more), and later added an additional 5 days of leave for everyone in the case of a positive COVID diagnosis."

"We’re committed to staying ahead of the spiraling costs of living in Charlottesville: in the last two years our starting wages have increased by 33% (from $12/hr to $16/hr), all of which was also passed along to our full staff at the time of each increase. Beyond this, nearly all of our staff have received merit raises, and the average pay for staff at the Corner currently sits at 17.00."

"We also pay 2/3 of the premium for employees working 30 or more hours and enrolled in health and/or dental insurance and provide 6 paid holidays per year and an escalating one to two weeks of yearly vacation pay for full time staff starting on the first anniversary of full time work. Shift meals are free on every 20 minute break and all breaks are paid (2 per 6 hour or longer shift and 1 for shorter shifts). There's an optional gym membership for full-timers as well; we pay 2/3 of that membership as long as people use it at least 8 times a month."

"But benefits and wages are not the only issues that concern employees, who have a real and important choice before them; our responsibility here is to ensure that each employee has the opportunity to express their choice with a vote, and to continue to support them whatever the outcome might be."