Baristas work to finalize cessation agreement with Mighty Good Coffee

Sunday, April 21, 2019 - 3:02pm

Members of the Washtenaw Area Coffee Workers Association are finalizing an agreement with the owners of Mighty Good Coffee.

Members of the Washtenaw Area Coffee Workers Association are finalizing an agreement with the owners of Mighty Good Coffee. Buy this photo
Keemya Esmael/Daily

Members of the Washtenaw Area Coffee Workers Association are finalizing an agreement with the owners of Mighty Good Coffee as the local chain prepares to shutter its retail operations by the end of the summer.

Workers celebrated the forthcoming agreement at a meeting with customers and supporters at The Grotto in downtown Ann Arbor on Friday. Alec Hershman worked as a barista at Mighty Good’s Main Street store, which closed Friday. He clarified that the agreement between the two parties is still in the works.

“Currently we’re negotiating for a cessation contract, so that’s still in process and we hope that we’re coming close to an agreement,” Hershman said. “The employer and our union are negotiating in good faith to try and find a reasonable solution for the workers that have been laid off.”

In a post on WACWA’s Facebook page on Friday, the union said, “Everything has happened very quickly at the end.” Baristas received a letter last Monday from Timothy J. Ryan, an attorney representing Mighty Good’s owners, Nic Sims and David Myers. They were told Mighty Good would be closing its stores and that they would be laid off.

In response, baristas demonstrated outside of the chain’s locations on Main Street and South University on Tuesday afternoon. Later that day, they met with Sims and Ryan to discuss a severance agreement.

While Hershman and Mandy Gallegos, a barista at Mighty Good’s Arbor Hills location, declined to comment on the deal on Friday or say anything “disparaging” about the company, they said WACWA had plans for the future.

“What we have all been discussing is possibly opening up an employee-owned coffee shop in Ann Arbor,” Gallegos said. “We thought that that would be a fantastic idea, all of us being able to get together and open up something where all of us can have good wages and good working conditions — basically everything that we’ve been trying to work towards — and we can all work together and run it together.”

 

Mighty Good’s cafe on South University Avenue will close on May 5. The Jefferson Market location will shut down on June 15, followed by Arbor Hills on Aug. 31.

Gallegos said customers have been supportive of the union and its members, leaving large tips and thanking the baristas for their service.

“I don’t have another word other than ‘overwhelming,’” Gallegos said. “It’s truly heartening for all of us. It’s also really great seeing our regulars who haven’t previously known about our union come in and be like, ‘I didn’t know that this was happening, what can we do to help you?’ I love that.”

Hershman said the community’s response was “phenomenal.”

“It has just been the coolest thing this week to hear from other unions that support us and to hear from our customers how much our service and presence has meant to them over the past couple of years that they’ve been coming into our stores,” Hershman said. “It would be an understatement for me to say that is has been emotional to work my last several shifts.”

LSA sophomore Maddie Ringer frequents Mighty Good’s South University Ave. location. She said it was unfortunate that the chain was closing.

“My favorite thing about Mighty Good is the vibe,” Ringer said. ‘It’s always super chill in there and the baristas are so amazing. I’m sad that it’s shutting down because I think Mighty Good provides something unique to the Ann Arbor coffee scene. I think what’s happening to the employees is so unfair. They got laid off with such short notice … It makes me really angry to think I’ve been supporting a business that treats its employees so poorly.”

Employees at Mighty Good unionized in the fall in response to allegations of racial discrimination against the company. In August, a Black barista quit after she said she discovered she was making less than her white coworkers. Prior to the learning of the chain’s imminent closure, WACWA was focused on negotiating better working conditions and wages for baristas.

The union filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board on April 8, accusing Mighty Good Coffee of short staffing its workers.

According to a copy of the complaint obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, “For years, schedules for baristas had been consistent in the number of employees working,” but as of late January, “Morning coverage on weekdays has been reduced” at Mighty Good Coffee, which “significantly increas(ed) the expected workload” for employees.

The union accused Mighty Good Coffee of violating Section 8(a)(5) of the National Labor Relations Act, meaning “the Employer failed and refused to bargain in good faiths with union as the collective bargaining representative of its employees by making unilateral changes in terms and conditions of employment.”

A week after filing the complaint, the baristas were informed the chain’s cafes would be shut down. The April 15 letter from the owners’ attorney said they decided to close due to stress.

“Nic and David have concluded that they are not well suited to operate a retail operation,” the letter states. “They have found the experience to be overly stressful. It has created an unworkable burden on their relationship and their family.”

In an email, Sims said confirmed the chain intended to close its cafes.

“The owners of MGC have been experiencing personal family issues which have led them to this decision,” Sims said. “They feel they cannot devote the time and energy required to operate four cafes while they address these issues. Simply put, they are prioritizing their family. MGC is very concerned about the effect this decision may have on the people who work in the cafes. MGC is working with the union on a plan to offer assistance to the employees as they transition to other employment.”

Hershman and Gallegos said despite Mighty Good’s closure, they want to help other baristas around Washtenaw County and encouraged coffee workers to get in touch with WACWA.

“Another thing that we’ve been talking about is just reaching out to other coffee shops in town, seeing what we can do for them, seeing if we can help other people wither unionize or help people just try to find out how to get better working conditions in their business,” Gallegos said.