Editor’s note: This story will be updated if/when more information becomes available.

Barboncino has become the first unionized pizzeria in New York City after a unanimous vote by workers in a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election on July 26.

Barboncino is a highly acclaimed wood-fired Neapolitan pizza shop in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood. Owners Emma Walton and Jesse Shapell purchased the restaurant from Ron Brown, the pizzeria’s founder, last fall. PMQ was unable to immediately reach Walton and Shapell for comment.

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The move to unionize the restaurant was supported by Workers United, a national labor union that also backed unionization efforts at Starbucks.

After Walton and Shapell took ownership of Barboncino Pizza in late 2022, employees reportedly submitted a petition seeking higher wages for tipped employees and kitchen staff, a three-strike policy for terminating employees, and input on the company handbook’s section covering sexual harassment. They said their requests were denied.

In May, they asked Barboncino’s owners to recognize the union, which would have prevented the need for a formal NLRB election. After the deadline for recognition passed, they filed for a formal ballot election with the NLRB on May 22.

Twenty-six workers voted via mail-in ballot in the July 26 election, a Workers United spokesperson told PMQ.

According to a press release from Workers United, the newly formed Barboncino Workers United union will “advocate for better wages, more control over scheduling, clear disciplinary procedures and a ‘no tolerance’ sexual harassment policy.”

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“They hope that their efforts will improve conditions not only in their own restaurant but in the foodservice industry more broadly, a major sector in NYC and one rife with labor abuses,” the release states.

Reporting on the Barboncino Workers United union vote, the New York Times noted that “unions in restaurants are rare because high employee turnover makes it challenging to build an employee base.”

The union will represent about 40 non-managerial employees, including line cooks, bartenders, servers and bussers, according to Workers United.

“There is no such thing as unskilled labor,” Andre Bolourian, a Barboncino busser, said in the press release. “Foodservice workers are an essential part of this city. We have a right to feel empowered at our workplace.”

Mike Kemmett, a bartender at Barboncino Pizza, told the New York Times he got involved with the unionization movement after an incident that occurred in August 2022—before Walton and Shapell became the owners. When some pipes in the basement leaked, Kemmett and a busser had to clean up the mess, which included some sewage. Afterward, a manager reportedly told Kemmett to keep working and serving customers, even though he was so dirty that his clothes had to be thrown out. Kemmett described the incident as a “public health nightmare.”

Aiden Hart, a Barboncino busser, related the same story to amNew York earlier this month. According to that article, neither Hart nor Kemmett was fired for refusing to stay because a former manager and another employee covered their shift while they left to clean themselves up.

In the press release, Kemmett said he believes in “one big union.” He added, “A labor movement that excludes some of the most exploited people in this country is no movement at all. I’m proud to be part of the fight to bring order and justice to the nation’s fastest-growing, least-protected industry. My heart belongs to Barboncino Workers United.”

“Pizza is a blank canvas,” Josh Johnston, a chef at Barboncino, said. “It is the artist’s job to fill that canvas with beautiful components and flavors. Being overworked and underpaid does not foster the artist’s ability to create beautiful and delicious food. With higher wages and more job security, the cook/artist is now able to explore the possibility of what pizza can be.”

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