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Contract negotiation ongoing for recently unionized co-op employees

In February The Front covered the unionization: Here's what’s happened since

The Community Food Co-op sign for the downtown location in Bellingham, Wash., on May 18, 2024. It is located on the corner of North Forest Street and East Chestnut Street. // Photo by Liam Walsh

In the winter of 2024, the two Bellingham Community Food Co-op locations voted to unionize. Since then, workers have gained some protections, but negotiations over a contract are ongoing. 

On Jan. 31, the downtown location on Forest Street voted to unionize. The next day, the Cordata location did the same. 

Ellie Mead, an employee at the Cordata co-op, explained why she felt it was necessary to unionize. “30 people in the span of three months had either quit or been fired just in the deli and kitchen,” Mead said.

She explained that management failed to hire enough new employees, and because of this, the remaining employees were asked to do extra work without additional compensation. 

She also cited problems with harassment from customers. One of their issues is that customers who have harassed employees haven't been banned from the store.

“One of my coworkers has even had someone pull on her hair and touch her physically, and that guy is still allowed to come back to the co-op,” she said. 

Another of their concerns is paid time off. Mead explained that if an employee calls out sick, they need to use their paid time off to cover their absence. If that happens a certain amount of times, it leads to immediate firing, Mead said.

“A lot of my co-workers have physical or mental health issues that result in them needing to call out, and if you call out too many times you will immediately be fired. You have to decide, 'Am I sick enough to not go into work, or am I going to waste my paid time off?’” she said. “If I actually go on vacation, I just have to hope and pray that I’m not going to get sick and need to call out.” 

The workers are now represented by Teamsters Local 231, a labor union that operates in Bellingham. The employees sat down with a representative and made a list of their demands.

Some of these demands include higher pay, financial transparency, healthcare for part-time workers and the separation of sick and vacation pay. The negotiations between the Teamsters and co-op management are ongoing. 


The front of the Community Food Co-op in the Cordata neighborhood in Bellingham, Wash., on May 18, 2024, during business hours. It is located on Westerly Road. // Photo by Liam Walsh

Even without a contract, workers have seen improvements.

“The union offers a lot of protection from random firings from management. That was an issue this past summer. They obviously had reasons to fire them, but from the workers’ perspective it was really extreme,” Mead said. “Now that cannot happen anymore. There has to be proper reasoning behind why you are getting fired.”

Both negotiating parties have stated they would not like to comment on the ongoing negotiations.  

Heather Ewing, the lead negotiator for the Teamsters said, “At this point, all that I can say is that the parties are meeting and negotiating in good faith.”

Carrie Blackwood, a lawyer representing the co-ops, echoed that point.

“The parties are in contract negotiations and have agreed to make no comments to the press during the good faith process,” they said. 

Maya Hill, the bargaining representative for the Cordata Starbucks, spoke about the process of union contract negotiation. She explained that negotiations can take a long time. The negotiations at her store began in 2022, but the process is moving forward, and she is hopeful they will get a contract soon. 

As with the co-ops, they made a list of their demands, both economic and non-economic.

“We brought our proposal forward, then they gave their proposal back with opinions on what we had proposed. It’s a back-and-forth process; we’re figuring out what we can agree on, and we're figuring out our differences,” Hill said.  

Although the process has been long, Mead still believes unionization was the right decision, and offered some advice to people looking to organize at their workplace.

“Start talking, and be loud with your opinions. Express what you think is wrong and get people on your side,” she said. “If you are unhappy with your job, I’m sure a lot of other people are as well.”

Liam Walsh

Liam Walsh (He/Him) is a city news reporter this quarter for the Front. He is a sophomore majoring in journalism with a news/editorial concentration. In his free time he plays for the Western rugby team. Reach him at

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