From the bud of a Union, a Coffee Cooperative Blooms
Augie’s Coffee, a local chain located in Redlands, CA boasts on its website that “We are not afraid to change, try new things, or push the boundaries of specialty coffee.” but when their staff decided to form a union, ownership made it clear that there was at least one new thing they were not willing to try.
The idea of unionization started brewing in early April 2020 after several unsettling events unfolded. The first was when Augies management purchased branded reusable face masks to sell to customers but refused to provide them to their staff in order to help protect them from the rapidly spreading Covid-19 virus.. The next unsettling event and possibly the spark that should be attributed to igniting the movement for unionization happened when employees who were at high risk or who lived with people who were at a high risk of contracting Covid-19, decided to take time off from work. When these high risk employees tried to return to work they were refused by Augie’s management, despite being short staffed. Fellow staff members offered to give up some of their shifts in order to bring these employees back on the schedule and management still refused. Through further conversations amongst current and former employees a trend of wage theft was discovered; including employees not being paid overtime and sick leave.
A core group of employees decided to formally organize and with the guidance of The United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America, known as UE, were able to convince over 80% of their fellow teammates to join the unionization effort in just over three weeks. Former employee and key Augie’s Union organizer Matthew Soliz said that “UE made me feel like I have a voice, made me feel like I can get stuff done. They assigned us a full time employee (an aggregate) who helped on a daily basis.” Despite their best efforts Augie’s ownership refused to recognize the union, announced plans to close their cafe locations, and laid off the entire organizing staff.
Although Augie's Union was no longer in the cards, the former employees were not done fighting. Shortly after laying off their previous staff members, Augie’s tried to purchase a new location with plans to open a storefront -- the union effort came together and managed to convince the town planning commission to block Augie’s application; they also pressured business partners to stop working with them effectively preventing the opening of a new Augie’s storefront.
From the seed of a Union, a Co-Operative Bloomed.
In order to continue to support themselves and their unionization efforts, the former employees began holding coffee pop-ups filling the cups and the caffeine cravings of the regulars who had frequented Augie’s. Soon they began roasting and selling small batches of beans as well. Collectively, they decided to let go of Augie’s Union, despite continuing the battle to receive their owed wages, and decided to redirect their efforts to form a cooperative; Slow Bloom Coffee.
The decision to form the cooperative was based in the same spirit of the unionization effort; someone doesn’t need to be skimming off the top.
Slow Bloom Coffee Cooperative operates through collective decision making, a democratic structure that doesn’t serve to enrich one person. The co-op model allows them to pull the curtains back; the community knows them, as baristas they were the face of Augie’s, and that community has consistently shown up, purchased their coffee and given them an overwhelming amount of support since the start of their pop-ups and now through their Kickstarter campaign.
Before releasing this blog post we reached out to Slow Bloom Coffee Cooperative for an Update;
“The venture is moving along, right now folks can find our coffee, merchandise, updates, and pop up times and locations online at slowbloomcoffee.com. We are working hard on our brick and mortar location which will be in Redlands and we expect to have good news on that front early this summer.”