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5 NYC board game cafés now unionized

Nearly 100 workers have joined Tabletop Workers United


With the election of a union at The Brooklyn Strategist in Cobble Hill on Dec. 13, nearly 100 workers at five different tabletop board game cafés in Manhattan and Brooklyn have now unionized with Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union that has organized more than 380 Starbucks locations nationwide.  

The board and card game workers’ string of successful union elections began with votes at Hex & Company’s three Manhattan locations on Nov. 14 when 50 of the 66 workers who cast ballots voted to form a union. Workers had initially asked owners Greg May and Jon Freeman for voluntary recognition in September when a supermajority of workers in the three stores signed a petition supporting the union, but the owners pushed for an official vote. 

Then, on Dec. 6, 10 employees of The Uncommons, a Greenwich Village board game café owned just by May, unanimously voted to join their Hex & Co. Colleagues in unionizing. And days later, 17 workers at The Brooklyn Strategist, owned by Freeman, voted to unionize as well, forming the final piece of what workers at the five locations are calling Tabletop Workers United. 

Christine Carmack, a trading-card game coordinator at The Brooklyn Strategist, told The Chief that workers there were inspired to take action to unionize once they learned about the Hex & Co workers' petition. The day after those workers filed their petition, workers at the Brooklyn Strategist took their first step towards unionization. 

 “We had some discussions about organizing before but once the Hex workers submitted their petition, there was a feeling of ‘why are we waiting?’ ” Carmack said. "At that point there was a lot of momentum amongst the staff, and we reached out to Workers United.” 

The Brooklyn Strategist workers also got some organizing advice from the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee, a project of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, an independent rank-and-file union, and the Democratic Socialists of America, which connected the Hex & Co. workers with Workers United earlier this year. 

'The more, the merrier’ 

Joseph Valle-Hoag, a worker at Hex & Co. who was recently appointed shop steward, said the unionization at Brooklyn Strategist was a sign of solidarity and demonstrated that concerns and issues experienced by Hex & Co. Employees were being replicated elsewhere. 

“That was particularly pretty cool to see because when you are doing something that you know is right and you see that other people are in agreement with you and are as passionate about it as you are, it’s really exciting to see,” he said. “The more the merrier. We want one big union.” 

Valle-Hoag said that since he and his coworkers voted to unionize, they’ve received little communication from May and Freeman. The workers, however, have filed several unfair labor practices charges after managers at two Hex & Co. stores made unilateral changes to workers' hours and started disciplining employees for actions for which they would not previously have been disciplined. 

One union member got written up for spending time outside during their break, a common practice for workers at Hex & Co., Valle-Hoag said. 

Workers at Brooklyn Strategist have also filed several unfair labor practice charges since they petitioned for unionization in November regarding coercion and threats from management. “There’s a lack of willingness to respect the labor rights that the staff at Brooklyn Strategist have,” said Carmack, the Brooklyn Strategist employee.   

Freeman and May did not respond to a request for comment on the unionization drives or about the unfair labor practice charges. 

Bargaining separately 

Valle-Hoag and Carmack both said that all of the members of Tabletop Workers United at the five different stores want to bargain together for a first contract given that they’re all owned by the same duo. Freeman and May, Valle-Hoag said, have denied the request and are planning on negotiating with workers in the three bargaining units separately.  

"Everyone would prefer to bargain as a group because we think it would be easier and faster but if Jon and Greg don’t want ease and speed, it's their prerogative to negotiate separate contracts,” said Valle-Hoag. 

Achieving raises are a central demand for workers at the five board game cafés — workers at Hex & Co are asking for a raise to $22.50 an hour — along with increased staffing levels, stable scheduling and a clear path to promotions. “We have a great deal of overlapping wants, needs and aims,” Carmack said. “We’ll be working together even if we negotiate separately.” 

Valle-Hoag hopes the union elections at these board game cafés encourage other service workers to organize. 

"If people are facing some of the issues that we are at Tabletop Workers United and you want to make a change, I would just say that you can do it and it's possible,” he said. "I would encourage workers to stand up for themselves and seek out change because it's possible. Tabletop Workers United is real and exists and we're here to help."  


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