The bakery, started by Brooklyn restaurateur Andrew Tarlow — of Diner, Achilles Heel, and an upcoming Manhattan restaurant — was born out of the wood-fired oven at Roman’s in 2009. The bakery had recently been named a James Beard Awards semifinalist for Outstanding Bakery. Today, at its Greenpoint warehouse, employees make mostly naturally fermented breads from a mix of local grains to sell at area greenmarkets, Tarlow’s restaurants, and 20 to 40 or so wholesale clients. With a staff of 23, the vote to unionize on January 18, was “a supermajority,” said Maria DiPasquale, a spokesperson for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, of the decision to file for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
“We are voting to unionize because we care about the bakery,” said Thomasin Alter, a baker at She Wolf since 2017. “If we thrive the bakery will thrive.”
Employees of the bakery are seeking safer working conditions — more temperature control when it comes to extreme cold and extreme heat. (They’ve cited that the baking area spikes to over 100 degrees on hot summer days, for example.) In addition, they’re looking for access to affordable healthcare, which some workers say is out of reach in their salary range of approximately $17 to $26.50 an hour — wages they hope will increase through unionization.
“I enjoy the work and really care about it,” said Alter. “It is something that I’d like to do for a long time,” she said, noting that she brings seven years of experience with her to She Wolf from previous employment as a baker.
Alter cited that she advocated for a pay raise in November, which management granted, with the caveat that “it came with all these other responsibilities,” she said, “when I should have gotten a raise based on my experience.” She also noted that while she was willing to “stand up for myself,” the union protects “those who don’t.”
DiPasquale said that the NLRB hasn’t yet scheduled an election date. “Workers have asked She Wolf Bakery to voluntarily recognize the union so that contract negotiations can commence swiftly,” reads the press release. Tarlow’s restaurant group, the Marlow Collective responded, “We are very proud of the work we do together and recognize and respect our employees’ fundamental right to organize and bargain collectively. We want to ensure that this is in fact their desire and anticipate negotiating in good faith with the Union if this is their decision.”
Bakers, market staff, drivers, and porters are among the workers who would be represented by the union.
As of now, there are no plans underway to unionize Tarlow’s other businesses; however, DiPasquale acknowledged it could set a precedent.
She Wolf’s vote to unionize follows the movement at Lodi, Ignacio Mattos’s restaurant in Rockefeller Center (which has yet to fully materialize), joined by pizzeria Barboncino, more recently, in Crown Heights. Other restaurants that have unionized include Gallaghers, Old Homestead, Shun Lee Palace, Grand Central Oyster Bar, and Smith & Wollensky.
Updated: January 23, 2024 at 9:02 a.m.: This article was updated to include a response from the Marlow Collective.