Barboncino, a Brooklyn Pizza Restaurant, Becomes a Union Shop

Barboncino, a Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, has become the first unionized pizzeria in New York City after its workers unanimously voted to approve the formation of a union.

The restaurant staff began organizing more than a year ago with Workers United, which has also supported the employees who are organizing at Starbucks stores. Staff presented the pizzeria’s owners with a letter in November that asked them to formally recognize the union, but when that didn’t happen, they filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board on May 22. The votes were counted on Wednesday.

Barboncino’s workers will now have to negotiate a contract with the owners, Jesse Shapell and Emma Walton, who bought the business last year. Workers said they’d like better wages and benefits, including higher minimum starting hourly rates and health care assistance. But they’d also like consistent schedules, protections from unjust disciplinary action and more direct involvement in establishing health and safety protocols.

“We’re going for the best deal we can get for every issue across the board,” said Mike Kemmett, 28, who has worked as a bartender in the restaurant for about two years.

The owners of Barboncino did not respond to requests for comment.

Labor organization efforts have been underway for about a year.Credit…Clay Williams for The New York Times

There’s been an increase in labor organizing for restaurants in recent years as the pandemic, inflation and a national discourse on racial inequity have highlighted the low pay and harsh conditions that many American workers face. But unions in restaurants are rare because high employee turnovers make it challenging to build an employee base.

Mr. Kemmett joined the unionization effort after an incident in August 2022 with the restaurant’s previous owner. The basement flooded after pipes, some with sewage, leaked. Mr. Kemmett said that he and a busboy spent hours cleaning out the water by using buckets and were so dirty they had to throw out their clothes. But the owner asked Mr. Kemmett to stay and serve customers. When he refused, he said the owner made it sound like he was fired.

This was “a public-health nightmare,” Mr. Kemmett said.

In the kitchen, cooks like Jared Berrien will sometimes burn themselves while working with the hot Neapolitan oven. For him, getting some help in enrolling for health care is important.

“Every workplace should be unionized, regardless of the industry,” said Mr. Berrien, 27, one of the lead organizers. He added that the workers at Barboncino would like to help others who want to form unions at their restaurants. “Hopefully, we’ll be an example.”

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