Panera bakers in Michigan look to unionize
E.B. Solomont Reporter-St. Louis Business Journal
Panera Bread Co. takes pride in its artisan bread, baked fresh daily. But a group of Michigan bakers is looking to join a union, the first Panera employees to do so, in an effort to improve work conditions and take home more dough.
The bakers in question work for a Panera franchisee, Paul Saber, who is a former McDonald’s executive. As the Huffington Post reports, the bakers think Saber is treating them more like employees of a fast-food chain than skilled artisans. One baker, Kathleen VonEitzen, 55, said she earns $10.45 an hour, or $21,000 a year, roughly 140 percent of the federal poverty level for couples. VonEitzen and her husband (who has a heart condition) go without health insurance because, she said, it would consume half of her paycheck.
More than a year ago, the bakers began a process to join the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, which made headlines for its role in a strike against Hostess last year. But the bakers and Saber’s company, Bread of Life, are locked in a legal battle over the effort with the National Labor Relations Board.
“Bakers have a right to criticize our management and seek to join a union,” the Huffington Post quoted Bread of Life officials as saying. “Bread of Life also has its rights in the legal process to appeal what we sincerely believe is an inappropriate unit of bakers for union representation.”
In an email message, Panera spokeswoman Linn Parrish said, “While typically it is not our policy to comment on legal proceedings, Panera does take our relationships with all of our associates seriously regardless of whether they are employed by our company or by a Panera franchisee.”
“Our goal,” she said, “is to provide a positive work experience, which includes treating all associates with fairness and respect.”
St. Louis-based Panera Bread Co. (Nasdaq: PNRA) has 1,652 bakery-cafes nationwide. It is led by Chairman and Co-CEO Ron Shaich and President and Co-CEO Bill Moreton. Panera officials reported net income of $173.4 million for fiscal 2012, up 28 percent from 2011.
Dan Wood, a baker leading the effort in Michigan, has launched the website Panera Bakers Unite with his fellow bakers. “I don’t want to hurt the company,” Wood told the Huffington Post. “I just want us to be recognized for what we are: the engine. You can’t buy anything from a Panera that we don’t touch.”