Labor complaint claims Coffee Tree Roasters barista fired for supporting union

Elected officials are expressing support for baristas wishing to unionize at The Coffee Tree Roasters in Pittsburgh after a barista claimed he was fired in retaliation for supporting the effort.

“Pittsburgh is a Union City – always has been, always will be,” Mayor-elect Ed Gainey said in a statement on Wednesday. “Every worker in Pittsburgh deserves the right to organize a union without retaliation or interference from management.”

Employees of The Coffee Tree Roasters announced plans to form a union with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1776 last week. Liam Tinker, a barista who appeared in an online video advertising the union campaign, said he was fired the next day.

Tinker claims he was texted fired after being late for his shift. But Tinker said it had never been written before and that the dismissal didn’t match how other baristas were treated.

“There is no precedent for immediate dismissal in these circumstances,” Tinker said.

The Pittsburgh-based company operates five locations in the area. Their phones were disconnected when WESA tried to reach management.

The union representing the baristas called Tinker’s dismissal a scare tactic.

“It’s not too hard to understand what happened here,” said Wendell Young, IV President of UFCW Local 1776. “[But] I think they picked the wrong group to do it. It’s a really well-engaged and well-organized group of workers. “

The national industrial relations law prohibits employers from dismissing or penalizing workers who organize or participate in a trade union. UFCW Local 1776 filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the coffee chain with the National Labor Relations Board.

The union’s efforts are already being praised by the Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council, the region’s main trade union organization, and a number of federal, state and local elected officials.

Gainey, for his part, called on The Coffee Tree Roasters to negotiate with union organizers on Wednesday.

“In a Gainey administration, unions will always have a place at the table,” he said. “Today, I join in the call of elected officials across Allegheny County to lead Coffee Tree Roasters to negotiate in good faith with baristas, adhere to the practices established by the National Labor Relations Board, allow workers to conduct free and fair elections to form a union and reinstate all employees who have been dismissed for their support of organizing efforts. ”

Pennsylvania State Officials Lindsey Williams, Jay Costa and Wayne Fontana released a joint statement Wednesday calling Tinker’s dismissal “disturbing.”

“Each of our districts has a Coffee Tree Roaster facility within it, and we value the small businesses that elevate our communities and the jobs they provide in the neighborhoods we are so proud to represent,” the statement said.

“Reconsider your recent layoff of Liam Tinker and demonstrate that your company will NOT retaliate against your workers,” the Democratic group said. “We urge you not to engage in bad faith efforts while your employees strive to form the union they have clearly stated they want to form. ”

US Congressman Conor Lamb has also expressed support for Tinker and the union. Lamb said Tinker’s layoff was proof of the need to pass President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better program and the Pro Act, which would create tougher penalties for companies and executives who violate workers’ rights.

“If Liam was unlawfully fired, Coffee Tree owes only his job and his back pay. No damage,” Lamb tweeted. “This is why it happens so often, and why we need BBB and #PROAct.”

Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who like Lamb is running for a seat in the US Senate in 2022, also called for support for the union. “A Union would go well with a cup of coffee,” Fetterman tweeted Tuesday.

Tinker told WESA he was overwhelmed by the support he and the union have received.

“It’s really encouraging,” Tinker said. He said his dismissal only strengthened the determination of baristas to find a union.

Baristas want better COVID-19 security measures, pay increases and permission to implement electronic tips.

Tinker said the company had not been consistent in keeping home workers who had potentially been exposed to COVID-19, but who had not yet received test results for the virus.

Baristas are also seeking pay transparency, saying the coffee chain required workers in one location to keep their increases a secret from workers in other stores.

“We are forming a union to create a better environment for our customers and for us as workers,” said Riley Davis, barista at the Mount Lebanon location. “We believe we deserve electronic tips, guaranteed meals and breaks, paid sick days and open communication with management.”

Update: December 29, 2021 at 3:35 p.m. EST

This story has been updated to include new statements from local state officials.

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