Workers at the Frattallone’s Hardware & Garden in Circle Pines, located about 15 minutes northeast of Minneapolis, make $10 to $12 per hour. One worker who’s been at the shop for 26 years is still capped off at $12, cashier Billisse Haji tells Racket.
When founder Larry Frattallone cashed out of his 22 Minnesota hardware stores last fall, around 14 Circle Pines workers figured the new owner, Tennessee-based hardware giant Central Network Retail Group (CNRG), could afford to boost their pay. Larry’s sons, Tom and Mike, maintain leadership roles with CNRG, so Haji and her colleagues asked Mike for a raise.
Crickets. (The Frattallones didn’t respond to Racket’s request for comment.)
“After we were bought out by a new, bigger company we asked for a pay raise because we knew they could afford it,” Haji says. “We were ignored by Mike Frattallone, we were ignored by the higher-ups, so we decided to unionize.”
That’s when the Circle Pines team reached out to CMRJB Workers United, the union that successfully organized the first-ever unionized Starbucks last month in Buffalo, New York. An affiliate of the 14,000-member union SEIU, Workers United announced the Twin Cities union drive on December 30, stating that an “overwhelming majority” of hourly workers at the Circle Pines shop had signed union cards.
At this phase of unionization, things can go the easy way (voluntary employer recognition) or the hard way (a vote overseen by the National Labor Relations Board). It seems the Frattallones chose the latter.
“When we went public with the union, Mike Frattalone posted an [internal] response,” Haji says. “He said nobody ever came to him about the pay–we did go to him about the pay.”
“For many of us, Frattalone’s Hardware is home, and our co-workers are a second family,” the Circle Pines workers wrote in a December 29 email to Mike. “Unfortunately, we feel that our loyalty and commitment to the company isn’t always reciprocated… We are having real trouble making ends meet with what we earn at Frattalone’s.”
The workers noted that CNRG’s parent company, Orgil Inc., raked in over $3 billion in 2020. Pay is really the only grievance, Haji says, noting with a laugh that the store’s dingy employee restrooms could use a cash infusion, too.
“We love the place we work, we love the customers and our coworkers,” she says. “We don’t want to over-ask, we just want to get our pay to $15.65—a livable wage would be appreciated.”
There’s no set date for the NLRB vote, though Haji says she’s already feeling a sense of solidarity inside the shop. Should the yeas outweigh the nays: blammo, first-ever union Frattallone’s. Conversations have begun about introducing colleagues at other Frattallone’s Hardware locations to the union. Locally, half of the six Half Price Books locations experienced a domino unionization effect amid Striketober.
That sense of labor momentum is already spreading at Starbucks. On Monday, workers at a downtown Chicago location announced that they’d signed union cards with Workers United. Same story last week in Broomfield, Colorado.
“We were inspired by them,” Haji says of Starbucks workers. “And we thought, ‘Hey, if a big corporation like that can get unionized, then us, a smaller business, can definitely do it.'”