There’s some unrest in Seattle’s coffee world. Over the weekend, several employees at Slate Coffee Roasters in Ballard, a popular independent chain with five locations in the Seattle area (including one at Facebook’s South Lake Union headquarters), resigned over what they alleged was a “toxic work environment” at the company. The employees — including three baristas and one manager from Ballard, along with two baristas at locations downtown — explained their grievances on a sign outside the Ballard shop, as well as in several individual Instagram posts.
“We have decided to withdraw our labor (effective immediately) because we do not feel our employers treat us with the same professionalism that they ask of us,” the sign on the Ballard shop read, in part. “We have experienced a toxic work environment: this includes but is not limited to dishonesty; discrimination of many kinds; bullying and intimidation; late and unreceived pay; disingenuous promises and so much more. Our expressed concerns have been met with silence at best, and more often condescension.”
The former Slate employees have formed a new group called Coffee at Large, which, as member Samantha Capell (former retail training manager and manager at Slate Ballard) explains to Eater Seattle, is an organization “looking to improve working conditions for coffee workers in Seattle and elsewhere.”
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A brief introduction: We are a group of baristas who have staged a walkout today in response to missing paychecks, dishonest and absent communication from upper management, empty promises regarding promotions and compensation reviews, and a hostile work environment. • We have chosen to leave in this manner because we no longer feel comfortable in our workplace. We don't do this just for ourselves. We know this is all too common in the coffee industry. We want to join with others to help change coffee here in Seattle and beyond. • There are so many pertinent issues in coffee, and we’re going to try our best to change some of the narrative. From sourcing, to service standards, it’s an intersectional issue. • We hope to use this page as a hub to tell coffee stories and work toward solutions. If the stories we post over the next few days feel familiar, reach out with your own. We'd love to share them and work with you towards a better coffee industry for us all. #coffeeatlarge #slatecoffeeroasters
Slate is a small, family-owned chain that lists 11 to 50 employees on its official LinkedIn site, so it seems that a significant percent of its workforce left. Eater Seattle reached out to Slate management for comment on this story, but has not heard back as of publication.
Founded in 2011, Slate established a niche in Seattle’s expansive coffee scene, specializing in lighter roasts, and has made an appearance on Eater Seattle’s essential coffee shops for its excellent espressos and intimate atmosphere. On its official website, Slate emphasizes that it is “as transparent as possible” in the coffee-making process. For its part, the company responded to the action by its workers on Instagram, writing, in part, “We intend to work through and understand the details and concerns made by our former employees and do not take the matter lightly.”
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To our Coffee Community: We are saddened by the recent event of five baristas walking out on their cafes because of their personal unhappiness with Slate. As a family-owned business, we understand that tough conversations can turn into constructive growth. We will continue to to work collaboratively with our staff though meetings and revised standards to allow for more commiunication so to better shape our ways of doing business. This is something that we have been striving for in the past. • As in the past and moving forward, we are committed to building a thriving culture for all workers and member of our community. Just as we value sourcing coffees in alignment with sustainable and equitable practices, we are committed to building a culture, internal practices, and safe work environment in line with those values. • We intend to work through and understand the details and concerns made by our former employees and do not take the matter lightly. It is our intention to hold space for a thoughtful dialogue. • For the moment, we have limited Instagram comments so that we may address all questions, comments, thoughts, and concerns through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. • Many thanks to our supportive guests, employees, and coffee industry partners and friends during this difficult time. • Sincerely, Lisanne Walker & Keenan Walker