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Harvard’s Academic Workers Unionized. But in a Year of Labor Ups and Downs, How Did They Win?

With Harvard Square Darwin’s Location Set to Close, Workers Gather at Owners’ House

Darwin's workers gathered at Cambridge City Hall Sunday to protest the closure of the coffee shop chain's Harvard Square location.
Darwin's workers gathered at Cambridge City Hall Sunday to protest the closure of the coffee shop chain's Harvard Square location. By Brandon L. Kingdollar
By Kate Delval Gonzalez and Brandon L. Kingdollar, Crimson Staff Writers

The popular Boston-area coffee chain Darwin’s Ltd. announced plans to close the store’s original Harvard Square location at the end of the month, prompting some workers to stage a protest at Cambridge City Hall on Sunday denouncing the move.

The Mount Auburn St. location is set to close its doors after 30 years this December, owners Steven and Isabel Darwin announced in an Instagram post on Oct. 26.

Darwin’s United — a union representing the chain’s employees — responded by organizing a protest at City Hall, where workers rallied on Sunday before gathering outside the Darwins’ Cambridge home.

“We have been offered no guarantees of jobs for those who want to stay, no guarantee that workers will have an income going into winter,” the union wrote in a Twitter statement. “We will not back down, we will not take this.”

Mark Spires, general manager of the Harvard Square location, said the lease for the store ends on Dec. 1.

Spires said the decision seemed sudden, adding that Steven Darwin had been planning to lease long-term equipment for the store as of a month ago.

“I think he might not have actually realized until pretty recently that he’s going to make this decision,” Spires said.

The Sunday protest included members of several Boston-area labor organizations, including Harvard’s graduate student union and the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers. Unions representing employees at other area coffee chains, including Starbucks and Pavement, also had members present.

At the rally, union members called on the Darwins to keep workers at the Harvard Square store employed if they wished to stay on and reiterated past demands for $24 per hour wages, three weeks paid time off, and zero-deductible healthcare for employees.

“We know that Steve has long been considering selling the business, but the timing really couldn’t be worse,” said Sam White, a Darwin’s United representative. “We’re telling him to come back to the bargaining table and respond to our proposals.”

A majority of workers at the four Darwin’s locations voted to unionize in September 2021 and began negotiations with management for a new contract for workers. Since then, talks have stalled, according to White. In March, workers at all four locations staged a mid-morning walkout to raise pressure on the owners.

Alexandra C. Stanton, a member of the Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Automobile Workers, said she believed the Harvard Square location’s closure is related to the union’s recent organization efforts.

“Doesn’t really seem like a coincidence to me,” Stanton said. “It’s a tactic to potentially demoralize the workers and frighten them by threatening to take their jobs away.”

Steven Darwin did not respond to a request for comment.

Spires said it was unlikely that all workers at the Harvard Square location would be laid off. Some employees have already begun to search for new jobs, he said.

“I suspect that the last two weeks are going to be severely understaffed,” Spires said.

Jordan Coleman, a member of Darwin’s United, said in a speech at City Hall that ownership needed to show more compassion toward workers.

“Tonight, we’re going to Steve’s house,” Coleman said. “I don’t begrudge him, his house, or pleasant life. It’s just the opposite: compassion demands that we fight so every worker can have the same.”

—Staff writer Kate Delval Gonzalez can be reached at

—Staff writer Brandon L. Kingdollar can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @newskingdollar.

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