Image 01 Image 03

Ithaca Baristas unionize – how long before $5 coffee is ‘the good old days’?

Ithaca Baristas unionize – how long before $5 coffee is ‘the good old days’?

Ithaca’s Gimme Coffee

My post about Cornell students complaining about $5 on-campus coffee prices elicited a strong readership response, Cornell on-campus cafe raises prices after state-mandated minimum wage hike:

I make instant coffee in my office rather than pay the exorbitant coffee prices in local cafes. (I’m also too lazy to walk to get coffee in the faculty lounge, which is of questionable quality anyway.)

But then again, I’m not as rich as many of the students, who think nothing of dropping $4 on a latte, because they don’t actually “pay” for it, they just show a barcode on their phone and presto, it gets charged to someone somewhere (probably parents)….

The only way I’m getting a $5 coffee at Cafe Zeus is if someone else is paying. Like a visiting Legal Insurrection reader.

Turns out that in Ithaca, $5 coffee may be the ‘good old days,’ as baristas at one of the leading coffee chains, Gimme Coffee, have unionized.

I last wrote about Gimme Coffee in 2013, Gimme a fracking break:

Gimme Coffee is an Ithaca coffee roaster and something of an institution.  For a mere $4 or thereabouts, you can have quite a good latte.  The coffee happens to be excellent, but it comes with a heavy dollop of liberal political agenda on top.

A reader forwards this image he saw on Facebook and comments:

You’ve probably seen this, but just in case . . .

This photo was posted to Facebook, proudly displaying a bag of ‘Fracktivist‘ coffee on sale by Gimme Coffee.

Fracktivist - small

How insufferably self-righteous.

How proud she is, in an ignorant, small way, to contribute to the continued economic depression wracking upstate New York, all the while keeping America dependent on the fossil-fuel friends of Al Gore.

Student journalist Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, who is destined for journalistic greatness (you heard it here first), writes at The Cornell Daily Sun, Gimme Coffee Baristas Ratify First Union Contract, Boosting Wages With Management Support:

Baristas at four Gimme Coffee shops in Tompkins County — members of what may be the only recognized barista union in the country — have voted to ratify their first union contract with the coffee shop’s management.

The union, Workers United 2833, formed last May and includes all baristas at the Upstate New York cafes. Its members voted unanimously, 22 to 0, on Dec. 31 to ratify a three-year contract that includes wage increases and the establishment of a paid sick day program, according to a joint statement from baristas and Gimme management released by the Tompkins County Workers’ Center on Wednesday.

Baristas at Gimme’s original shops on State and Cayuga streets in the City of Ithaca, which opened in 2000 and 2001, are covered by the union, as are baristas at Cornell’s Gates Hall and at Gimme in Trumansburg. The union does not include baristas at the coffee franchise’s three New York City locations.

The willingness of the owner to hand over control to a union was perhaps the most startling aspect of the deal, which includes a wage renegotiation:

… the union inserted a planned renegotiation of wages into the contract as a condition of agreeing to the management’s wage proposal, which the union found unsatisfactory. The union and management will negotiate wages in December of this year, per the contract, but the rest of the contract is valid for three years, Mason said.

While negotiations between baristas and management have hit some bumps, the union effort is unique in that it has not been publicly opposed or hindered by the company, as with other unsuccessful union attempts at Starbucks and elsewhere.

“I’m a proponent of people coming together to build a better world, and I look forward to working with the union toward the advancement of the company mission,” Kevin Cuddeback, owner and CEO of Gimme Coffee, said in a statement. reports how control over the business was critical to the baristas:

Gimme! Coffee barista Samantha Mason stated that the contract was part of the benefits of unionizing, but beyond that she was glad to some more equity return to the workers-management dynamic.

“For me, the most integral part of this has been to see how far my co-workers and I have come in building solidarity, in rebalancing power and having the courage to take action and create a better workplace,” Mason said. “It’s important to me that all workers understand that they can change their workplace.”

The Tompkins County Workers Center, which supported the union effort, points to the following highlights of the new contract:

  • A union “just cause” clause that protects workers from unfair discipline or discharge;
  • A union grievance and arbitration procedure to resolve any workplace problems;
  • Wage increases;
  • Establishment of a paid sick day program;
  • Monthly joint labor/management meetings.

The prices at Gimme Coffee already are not cheap. The menu from a Brooklyn location of Gimme Coffee, posted online at a Yelp review (see featured image), shows prices approaching $5 for lattes and similar drinks. That comports with my memory the last time I wrote about Gimme Coffee

Will $5 coffee be the ‘good old days’ after union wages and benefits kick in? Gimme Coffee did not respond to an email inquiring whether price increases are expected in light of the unionization.


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.



How long before the coffee bars employing those barristas are bankrupt and shuttered?

    JohnC in reply to Granny. | February 13, 2018 at 1:10 pm

    It’s like a little tidal pool; The customers aren’t really the one’s paying, the owner’s won’t really be the ones setting the prices. What a perfect little Progressive ecosystem.

      notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to JohnC. | February 13, 2018 at 2:02 pm

      INSTANT COFFEE FOR EVERYONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      There are some really good instant coffees out there.

      Here’s just one.

        Funny you say that. I hate Starbucks coffee (too acidic) and was using Costco’s Pacific Bold Keurig pods. But I don’t know if it changed or what, but it was just yucky. By accident, we discovered instant coffee and it is the best! Really. Use it quick, it goes bad with air and time.

        Here’s what you need to get better coffee at home for less than $1 per cup…

        Nescafe Classico Instant Coffee (everywhere);
        Hamilton Beach Instant Electric Teapot (amazon/walmart);
        100 pack of 12 or 16 Oz White Solo hot cups and lids (online/Costco) These are a worthy indulgence;
        Live Fit Cacao powder (sugar is not good for you);
        Sharpies – for cute designs on your pristine, clean, white cups

        If you like lattes, get a milk frother from Walmart or Amazon, it takes 2 seconds

        If you drink soymilk, you will have to try 100 different brands until you find one that froths right, but they are out there.

        Truly as good as anything else out there!

          notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to elle. | February 13, 2018 at 4:24 pm


          I didn’t know about instant coffee going bad after being opened.

          notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to elle. | February 13, 2018 at 4:26 pm

          Evidently instant is just as healthy as regular coffee or maybe it’s even healthier than regular coffee.

          “According to a 2012 paper in Food Chemistry, the way instant coffee is produced concentrates some antioxidant compounds, including phenols and flavonoids, resulting in an even “higher content of these substances when compared to other types of coffee.” And a lab study published in the same journal in 2013 found that instant coffees differed little from fresh coffee in levels of chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant that may have cardiovascular benefits….”

          elle in reply to elle. | February 14, 2018 at 1:07 am

          “.. instant coffees differed little from fresh coffee in levels of chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant that may have cardiovascular benefits….”

          Interesting. It doesn’t surprise me because instant coffee (and this does surprise me) tastes robust.

          As for “going bad” I meant in terms of flavor. It doesn’t spoil. It is really good when you first open it and gets increasingly bitter with air and time.

    My first thought, as well.

Outside of the Cornell campus (does Ithaca College have one?), this should really help boost sales for chains like Dunkin or McD’s where you don’t have to pay a lot and get your does of social justice with your dose of caffeine. Even if the chains are swill by comparison.

To bad there are no Stewarts shops in that area. Good coffee at a fair price.

I’m not sure they’ll be open long enough for the next full contract negotiation. Paying people more and no ability to fire poor performers (if they show up) will not take long to destroy the shops.

Dumba$$ owner, Kevin Cuddeback, doesn’t realize he is now on a sinking ship. Why didn’t tighta$$ owner, Kevin Cuddeback, treat his good employees well to begin with? Union baristas will learn they do not have the bargaining power for the long haul 🙂

Your robot barista is awaiting for your order. Welcome to the results of SJW 101.

One of the great virtues of capitalism is that it allows for all kinds of demand!

For instance, Whole Foods found a niche market for its stuff, and people were happy to pay more for it. Not everyone, certainly. But enough.

There will be idiots who DEMAND Gimme Coffee, with its over-priced socially virtue-signaling cups, and that is WONDERFUL by me.

Capitalism ALLOWS even outright communism. It is the MOST tolerant of all economic models. Just so long as there is no compulsion.

What they need now is an illegal alien with a pushcart(Dreamer wagon) serving coffee and pastry outside the front door of Ithaca’s Gimme Coffee.

this will be a great real life application of economics for all involved…

except i doubt that most of the participants will be paying attention, nor draw any valid conclusions from the experience.

buckeyeminuteman | February 13, 2018 at 12:20 pm

I understand the need for unions when employees worked 12 hours per day, 7 days per week with machinery that severed hands and feet. But to make coffee…

It’s no wonder it takes a liberal arts degree to be a barista. They are quickly becoming high-paying jobs.

Those who can’t do, teach.

Those who can’t teach, teach gym.

Those who can’t teach gym, make coffee.

Can someone slip in a few packages of Black Rifle Coffee into the same rack as the Fracktivist?

The shops might survive on virtue signaling.

Years ago Elscint, a medical equipment manufacturer in Israel canvased doctors (majority Jewish in this smapling) in US whether they would buy the equipment primarily because it came from Israel. The answer was “no”… quality, service and price came first. Elscint innovations are at the core of much of present CT and Nuclear Medical designs…. quality, service and price were the key.


“Hello. This is the free market residence, who is calling?”

“Hi, this is the invisible hand, I’ve got a package for you.”

“What is it?”

“It’s called ‘elastic.’ You’re going to need a new one for your market when you get laid off because you’ve been stretching yours too thin.”

Open a non-union shop across the street called Deplorable Coffee. Half the price of Gimme.

Lemme guess: Every single barista voted for minimum wage hike. “I was for it before I realized I was going to have to pay for it.”

How long before people vote for an alternative?

That depends on union expectations. As it did before on the business owners.

Professor, why don’t you offer a suggestion to rename the cafe the “Venezuela Cafe”. Diversity and all that, you know.

    alaskabob in reply to great unknown. | February 13, 2018 at 2:01 pm

    “Socialist Expresso” – “you pay more and get less”
    “Hugo’s Blend” … “Suffer along with the rest of the 3rd world”
    Fidel’s Special .. “Your cup size depends on ability and need”

      notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to alaskabob. | February 13, 2018 at 2:05 pm

      Better yet……

      Your Last Cup and a Blindfold Coffee House……….

      murkyv in reply to alaskabob. | February 13, 2018 at 8:03 pm

      “Maduro Mocha” “Now made with REAL monkey crap”

      true story, there was a great local coffee shop, everything was homemade, fresh, awesome. The owner even made her own soymilk…soaked and processed the beans. She grew herbs on the counter, etc.

      True-believer that she was, she started with no pricing, you paid what you felt it was worth. First time I was there, she had already given up on that, but I could tell she was still trying to deal with her disbelief that it had not worked out as planned.

      I’m sure you will all be surprised to hear it no longer exists.

Hmmm! Gotta go make a pot of Black Rifle.

The Friendly Grizzly | February 13, 2018 at 6:03 pm

Buy a few outmoded hearses. Do some conversions and set them up to sell coffee and pastry. “Mourning Coffee”.

Forget those hipster baristas and their over-priced, high-acid semi-coffee, those coffee filters that go with the short-lived, drip coffee machines, and that overpriced icky instant. Get back to the original cowboy coffee:

    elle in reply to ray. | February 14, 2018 at 1:24 am

    haha…that was great. I agree with you (and the cowboy) that percolated makes a worthy cup. However, if speed is an issue, freeze dried coffee is not icky or overpriced.

    Concentrated cold brew is also good. Use a French press (or 3 cups in a 4 cup cowboy pot – hahah) and make it super strong. Then refrigerate the concentrate in air-tight glass container (clean glass jar with screw lid works) and add boiling water when needed. Yum!

If minimum wage coffee servers want to unionize and management wants to let them do that, that is up to them. However, one thing has to be remembered here. Restaurant service staff is an incredibly transient “profession”. No one wants to be serving coffee to yuppies for the next 30 years. It is not a trade and requires little or no skill. It is an entry level or temporary job. So, let’s say that someone enters the barrista job market at $8 an hour. Every year, if they perform well, their salary goes up $.50 an hour [this is what most grocery store wage increases look like in the US]. Now, if they work 2000 hours a year, which is the normal 40 hour work week, they will make $16,000 a year [before taxes]. The next year, they will make $17,000, The 3rd will see them at $18,000. They will have to work in the coffee shop for 8 years to reach the poverty line. And, if the wage scale is like most businesses, it will top out at there. So, a thirty year employee will retire making $24,000 a year. This is a career which is only attractive to an illegal immigrant from south of the USA.

McDonald’s coffee is better anyway.

For $1

I’ll pay $2 for Dunkin’s.

I wouldn’t visit a Starbucks if you paid me to.

$5 is insane. They want to unionize? Fine. Get ready for the unemployment line.

Related: Toronto’s minimum wage law kicked in, and the related job losses came in at about 51,000.

* sigh *

H.E.B. store-brand instant coffee: $4.35/8 oz.
H.E.B. store-brand sugar: $1.98/4 lbs.
Nestle Coffee-Mate creamer: $4.62/22 oz.

Total: $10.90, and I have coffee for a month or more

So you want a society that can “employ” a person but not pay them a living wage. Hm… that smacks of slavery and the bad old days. OH yes I forgot – those emplyees are free to work or not! They are free to pay their rent or not. They are free to buy groceries or not. They are free to buy health care or not. How about we decide that the maximum wage is only 4x the lowest paid worker. Then the price of coffee could go down so that the rich smug well paid can enjoy some savings and the poor barristas could pay their rent and buy groceries.

A bunch of people pour coffee in a fancy way, call themselves “baristas” and think they have a valuable skill. THEY POUR COFFEE!! They have no investment in tools, education, professional memberships and think they deserve premium wages? No…

Sweet Jesus, just wait until these snowflakes start screaming ‘Microaggression!’ when a customer requests they put white sugar in a latte.