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RI’s first unionized coffee shop needs your support to become worker-owned

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We, the cafe workers, believe a new worker-owned business model will benefit and inspire the communities we serve and the communities we represent.


Last week staff of a popular Providence, Rhode Island cafe, White Electric Coffee, secured voluntary recognition of our union, we believe making it the first union coffee shop in the state! We appreciate how the owners have taken the progressive stance of recognizing our union as a step toward reconciliation and a more equitable workplace, which we believe is a win for the staff, cafe, and the broader community.

If you have the means and are supportive of these efforts, we greatly appreciate any contributions to help make the co-op cafe a reality. See our gofundme page for opportunities to donate.

The name of our union reflects its unique structure. CUPS (Collaborative Union of Providence Service-Workers) is an independent union, created by and run by us workers, with a goal toward consensus when possible, and a deliberate structure of equitable democratic power in decision-making. We hope our union model can be an inspiration to other food service and service sector workers, that organizing with your co-workers is possible and that there is power, too often unharnessed, in your collective voice.

Now we may have the chance of turning the business into a worker-owned co-op! This is big! We – the community, customers, and staff of White Electric – have a truly exciting opportunity to create the kind of business that we can all be proud of. One that is dedicated to fair labor practices, racial justice, and that listens to the needs of its community and its workers. The future worker-owners of White Electric would be committed to making that kind of business happen.

Here’s the story: A few months ago workers of White Electric Coffee decided to form an independent union. This came after months of organizing around demands for racial and workplace justice, including a community petition and negotiations with the owners. On August 28th we asked the current owners of White Electric for voluntary recognition of our union and on August 30th they agreed. On September 8th we held a card check confirming staff support of our union, and CUPS was officially born! That same night we heard from the owners that they were listing the cafe for sale, and we appreciate their offer to favor the option of transitioning to a worker-owned and run cooperative business, as described in the letter they sent to us:

In discussions with our friends and advisors about this next step, it became clear to us that one of our top priorities was to try to offer the White Electric staff an opportunity to take the reins… which is really the heart and soul of this message to you all. In short, even through the difficulties over the past months, nothing has been more clear to your collective devotion to making this shop a showcase for best practices, fair management and cutting edge work culture…and we’ve realized that if possible, you—some or all of our White Electric Family—would be the best possible hands in which we could place the reins.


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Here’s what that means in real terms: First, having now reached the decision to make a change, we want to lead by offering the collective staff (which could be any individual or a group, and includes both current and past employees) a right of first refusal to purchase the shop. Our intention is to list White Electric for sale more or less immediately, but we are committing to offering the staff a reasonable period of exclusivity to determine whether an employee purchase is desirable…and if so, whether it’s possible. Further, we’re committing to offering a 15% discount off the listing price, which includes the property/real estate, the business itself, and the associated goodwill, all the equipment, trademarks, etc.”

We thank the owners for showing a willingness to work with us, even through challenging issues, and for their generous offer. We are in the process of coordinating to make that worker-owned co-op happen, based around a core group of current and former staff who have already been organizing together for months, as well as other supportive community members we are reaching out to.

If you have the means and are supportive of these efforts, we greatly appreciate any contributions to help make the co-op cafe a reality. See our gofundme page for opportunities to donate.

We, the cafe workers, believe a new worker-owned business model will benefit and inspire the communities we serve and the communities we represent. All the funds raised from this drive will go directly to securing the down payment needed to transition ownership of the cafe from its current proprietors to the worker-owned co-op. While we are also exploring grants and other methods of funding, the community donations represent an important portion of the total cost to buy White Electric. Your contributions will have a huge impact in making that goal a reality. An outpouring of support from our customers and neighbors would mean so much to us and would send us the clear message that this co-op is a truly collective goal!

Our deepest thanks to everyone who has supported us thus far in our collective push for racial and workplace justice over the past months. Thank you. For real. We’re thrilled to celebrate the recognition of our independent union, CUPS, and excited about the possibility of turning White Electric into both a unionized workplace and a worker-owned co-op! Thank you!!

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CUPS (Collaborative Union of Providence Service-Workers) is an independent union, created by and run by us workers, with a goal toward consensus when possible, and a deliberate structure of equitable democratic power in decision-making.

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