Monday, April 12, 2010

Gates Stay Down At Gorilla Coffee In Brooklyn

Riding the 2 train this morning, I couldn't help but think about the freshly roasted coffee I was about to consume, along with a Blue Sky Bakery muffin at Gorilla Coffee on my way to work. Needless to say I was shocked to see the usually bustling shop closed, with boxes of delivered goods sitting unattended on the empty tables inside. A couple other passer-bys were perplexed by the inactivity and then I turned back to get a standard bodega coffee a couple blocks away. By the time I got to my desk fifteen minutes later, I had heard that the staff walked out on Friday night.

Of course there are those who support the workers and others that think they are 'barista snobs' who should have valued having a job. My opinion isn't set in stone as of yet, but from what I've read thus far (and seen for my own eyes while waiting online or sitting at the tables) it seems that the workers had every right to shutter the mighty Gorilla.

Here's the staff's letter to the public:

We the workers would have preferred to keep this between the people involved, thus our silence towards the press. However, we do feel it is important to clarify the situation for the friends and patrons of Gorilla Coffee. The issues brought up with the owners of Gorilla Coffee yesterday are issues that they have been aware of for some time. These issues which have repeatedly been brushed aside and ignored have created a perpetually malicious, hostile, and demeaning work environment that was not only unhealthy, but also, as our actions have clearly shown, unworkable.

Several staff left not only recently, but also in the past few years due to these issues. The staff was recently told that the business partner to whom these issues have been repeatedly attributed was no longer affiliated with the business, and the environment was going to change. For 6 weeks nothing was seen nor heard of this business partner. This separation changed the dynamic of the business so drastically one of the departed staff quit their other job to return with the understanding these changes were permanent, and those who had tendered their resignation, or were drafting it, decided to stay. When the business partner returned without explanation, staff approached the owner hoping to find out the reason for this sudden and unannounced return. Work environment and workplace issues aside, the workers collectively felt deceived and that they had been shown a lack of mutual respect. This only served to highlight and reemphasize the previously expressed concerns. As the staff was well aware, both through experience and through conversation with past employees, Gorilla Coffee has a history of this pattern repeating itself.

It should be emphasized that the intent of the meeting was above all to find a solution to this unhealthy situation, a solution which involved the maintenance of these improvements to the work environment, and that would prevent any future returns to the previous unhealthy dynamic. Above all the attitude of the staff involved in the meeting (who were representing the rest of the staff) was one of respect and positivity. A collective instant resignation was an agreed upon last resort and not a bargaining chip. It was simply that without change, we all felt unwilling to undergo another day in that environment. Hence, out of a collective feeling of self respect and job insecurity, the staff decided it would be in their best interest to find employment elsewhere.

This isn’t political and it isn’t a strike. The staff quit and the matter will not be resolved. It’s a matter of business, and a personal matter for each of the staff. Everyone at Gorilla Coffee, including the owners and the staff, are skilled, passionate, and hard working. It is unfortunate for everyone involved. The workers are grateful to the many wonderful patrons over the years, and we apologize that it was necessary to inconvenience them in this way. All we can say is “thank you for the support and all the best.”

Sincerely, The workers of Gorilla Coffee

There's the owner's side of the story as well, and is reported at Sprudge among others. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but my intuition says that if an entire contingent of workers are willing to walk out on the job, responsible consumers might want to find their caffeine elsewhere until the owners make good on the workers' claims.