A group of coffee professionals in Seattle is learning how to best support and represent coffee workers who feel mistreated.
BY MARK VAN STREEFKERK
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Cover photo courtesy of Felix Tran
From the editor: The topic of labor has been at the forefront of many recent conversations in specialty coffee. Today we launch a short series on labor rights; our first installment of this three-part series is a feature on the labor movement Coffee at Large.
Coffee at Large is a group of baristas and coffee professionals seeking to shed light on workplace injustice in specialty coffee, with an Instagram profile that gained over 5,000 followers within the first three days of its inception. The @coffeeatlarge account began after the June 22 walkout of five employees from Slate Coffee’s Ballard location in Seattle. Originally, the profile was a platform for Slate employees to elaborate on experiences that led them to walk out soon; however, it has since turned into a platform for sharing. (Slate has not responded to requests for comment.) As the profile rapidly gained visibility, outpourings from the community manifested in messages of support, solidarity, and many, many people commenting or direct messaging their own stories of workplace misconduct in specialty coffee.
The @coffeeatlarge feed includes pictures of the baristas’ original resignation letters taped to the windows of Slate the day of the walkout, and beautiful illustrations of hands held in solidarity framed by coffee cherries and leaves, all staged by former Slate employee Felix Tran. At the time of this article, there are 10 story highlights, each from a different Slate worker. Felix Tran and Rachel Hopke manage the majority of the account.
“It’s crazy to hear how many people will say, ‘I thought I was reading about my own workplace,’ and that’s incredibly sad to hear. It’s shocking, and then it’s almost not shocking because it’s happening everywhere so often,” says Rachel, a former Slate barista, and one of the five who walked out. “A lot of coffee media is wonderful and it is centered around coffee sourcing … but a lot of it is also like, glamorous, beautiful cafés, and there’s people working in these beautiful cafés that aren’t being treated well. Hopefully we can change the narrative with that.”
Coffee at Large addresses what Rachel considers an epidemic of workplace injustice in specialty coffee. Some examples of mismanagement include lack of communication from higher-ups, lack of transparency about wages, missing or bounced paychecks, gatekeeping, refusing to use an employee’s pronouns, not scheduling breaks, and retaliating against workers who raise concerns.
“For now we’ll be sharing coffee workers’ stories and giving them a voice and a platform because feeling like you’re not alone is a huge step in being able to stand up for yourself as an individual,” Rachel says. “And then as soon as we can we’re hoping to offer more resources for coffee workers, especially if they’re hoping to organize or unionize, if that’s a good fit for them. We walked out and that was what was best for us, but at the same time employees shouldn’t need to do that necessarily, and shouldn’t have to run the risk of leaving their job for their employers to listen. We want to help coffee professionals know what their labor rights are, and we also want to become a resource for employers.”
So far, Coffee at Large has connected with #coffeetoo, a grassroots community that provides resources and events that speak out against discrimination and harassment in coffee. They’ve also joined forces with Camila Coddou of Barista Behind the Bar and several unions, as well as attended a Workplace Organizing Collective hosted by Democratic Socialists of America.
“There’s no coffee union right now. I don’t even believe there’s a foodservice worker’s union, which is so needed,” Rachel reports. “We’re still figuring out how people can best support us because we’re still figuring out how we can best support others. Meeting spaces would be helpful as far as businesses that can provide that, [and] any workplace organization insight. The outpour of support has been incredible. We’ve had people offering to design a website. We’re looking for anyone who would like to be a part of Coffee at Large.”
Coffee at Large can be reached best via email as well as Instagram DMs. “We can’t offer the kind of support we want to right now so we’re focusing on sharing stories while we educate ourselves on how to better help people,” Rachel states.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Van Streefkerk is a freelance writer, social media manager, and novelist based out of Seattle. If he’s not writing, he’s probably biking to his favorite vegan restaurant. Find out more on his website.