Testifiers, lawmakers discuss positive impact unions have on business

Roundtable hosted at union coffee shop in Pittsburgh

SHADYSIDE, March 12 – Unions have long delivered for workers with higher wages and dignified benefits, but the House Majority Policy Committee and Rep. Nick Pisciottano (D-Allegheny) learned how the presence of unions benefits local business owners across Pennsylvania through improved productivity, increased retention of workers and productive collaboration between the employer and employees. 

“I called for this roundtable to show just how important and effective unions are to businesses, workers and owners. This was an important story that needed to be told because it shows what can happen when both sides come together for an open, honest dialogue on unionization,” Pisciottano, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, Energy & Development said. “What started as a rocky situation evolved into a partnership that benefited both workers and the business, and that can be duplicated in communities across the state.”

The roundtable was held at the Coffee Tree Roasters, a woman-owned, union coffee shop with several locations in the Pittsburgh area. Owner Jean Swoope was initially against her employees’ attempt to unionize, but after bargaining sessions began, both sides discovered the benefits of unionizing and ultimately agreed on a labor contract.

“We don’t want to downplay the significance of this. This was not an easy process. There wasn’t a straight and easy path to get here,” said Swoope. “But through some of the differences and struggles on the front end, we collectively ended up with a more productive and honest process on the back end.”

In addition to Swoope, the roundtable discussion included testimony from Ryan Harding, a Coffee Tree Roasters employee and UFCW Local 1776 member, and Leonard Purnell, Field Services Director for UFCW Local 1776. They agreed that since unionizing, both ownership and employees are reaping the benefits, and both sides are happy with the decision.

“Since UFCW 1776 members have ratified this labor contract, we have been very proud of the progress made between workers and ownership. We have embraced this new way thinking about worker empowerment and small business empowerment,” said Purnell and Harding. “If workers and employers can have a true collective bargaining process with a fair dialogue, that is a result that works for everyone.”

In addition to telling their union story, testifiers urged lawmakers to continue supporting unions and small businesses and recommended that they help serve as a mediator in situations that call for it.

“House Democrats are pro-union and pro-business. Some people believe you can’t support both, but the story we heard at Coffee Tree Roasters this morning tells us otherwise,” House Majority Chairman Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie) said. “Union contracts help improve working conditions, benefits, and overall employee morale. Unions are good for business, and the lessons learned from this particular situation proves that.”

Testimony from Tuesday’s roundtable can be found here. Information about other House Majority Policy Committee hearings can be found at pahouse.com/policy.