Citing A Toxic Work Environment, Baristas Walk Out At Seattle’s Slate Coffee

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CW: This story contains depictions and outlinks to graphic descriptions of offensive language.

Disclaimer: This story contains both direct statements and outlinks to first-person accounting of past events. Sprudge Media Network cannot independently verify the accuracy of this growing volume of claims.

In the early morning hours of Saturday, June 22nd, the Ballard location of Seattle’s Slate Coffee Roasters was unable to open for business. Instead of the hum of regular weekend commerce, guests to the cafe were met at the door with resignation letters from five now-former Slate employees—Jason Beutler, Samantha Capell, Rachel Hopke, Meri Novascone, and Felix Tran—as well as a letter explaining to customers the reasons for their decision to part ways with the company. In the letter, the coffee professionals (whose titles with Slate range from barista to manager) cited “a toxic work environment” leading to their resignations, including but not limited to “dishonesty, discrimination of many kinds, bullying and intimidation, late and unreceived pay, [and] disingenuous promises.”

The labor dispute boiled over into the digital world via @CoffeeAtLarge, an Instagram account created by the former Slate employees that in a few short days has amassed over 4,000 followers alongside hundreds of comments and shares. In a series of posts, the account detailed the chain of events leading to this weekend’s walkout.

The flashpoint appears to be the dismissal of Samantha Capell, a Retail Training Manager and Location Manager at Slate’s cafe in the Ballard neighborhood. Two days prior to the walkout, Capell submitted a letter of resignation citing “increasing toxicity of the upper management culture,” setting her final day over a month later. According to a letter from the company signed by the Director of Retail Nathan Patrick Wirrig (posted on the Ballard store window, and depicted on Instagram), Slate terminated her employment that same day, citing the reason as a “no call, no show on 18 June 2019.”

In the wake of the incident, Sprudge has reached out to Coffee At Large, individuals associated with Coffee At Large, and Slate Coffee Roasters ownership for comment and clarification. Using the Coffee At Large email account, Samantha Capell wrote us a detailed message elaborating on the situation that led to last weekend’s walkout.

Excerpted from Capell’s email below:

[On the issue of unreceived pay]

One employee was shorted 3 paychecks over January and February. This issue still has not been resolved 4 months later, even after numerous attempts on the employees end (as well as the then-manager) pressing them to pay.

I was missing a paycheck from January 4th and after following up every week or so I received it in the middle of March. (At the same time I was looking for my paycheck, I was following up on one from another former employee who came in once or twice a week for months.) Every time she or I would follow up, the management would say they’d be delivering it, and it wouldn’t be there.

[On the issue of late pay]

This is so frequent it’s comical. Yesterday, in fact, one of the employees had to go in and request a paycheck when some people got their direct deposits and some didn’t. But this happens every three or four pay periods. We wait for our Friday deposit, all try to follow up after receiving nothing and are told that due to “the roaster being broken” or “too many timecards needing adjusting” checks will be delivered to cafes within the next few days. (Sometimes to cafes people don’t work at.)

[On the issue of hostile work environment]

(One issue was) the inability to set up meetings or reviews with management regarding working conditions or promised pay reviews. I was reprimanded for not following expectations that were never communicated to me. My job description changed without my awareness and I was reprimanded for such. One employee notes that when she complained about mistreatment to her manager, her manager reported it to the person it was regarding, and he called her out for it in the middle of a staff meeting.

[On the issue of offensive and discriminatory language]

Two former employees can attest to a member of upper management calling the building manager the C-word; one manager asked an ethnic employee if they had their green card; one manager mentioned that an employee was awfully skinny for a Mexican; one asked a former Mexican employee if she knew any Mexicans who would work for cheap to fix the floors; finally, since my resignation/termination, every person above the level of barista at Slate Coffee is a cis-gendered Male (in a company that tends to draw minority/non-binary/queer etc people).

Capell and others associated with Coffee At Large describe a series of misogynstic, homophobic, transphobic, racist, and anti-immigrant statements allegedly attributed to the management and/or ownership of Slate Coffee Roasters. In the course of our reporting over the last 48 hours, additional accounts similar to the above claims by Capell have been published publicly by former Slate employees on Instagram, and the collective membership of Coffee At Large continues to grow.

Sprudge has reached out to Slate for comment on the events of last weekend and Coffee At Large. No comment has been received as of press time, but the company did post the following message on Instagram, reprinted here in full:

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 communication 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 [email protected]

Many thanks to our supportive guests, employees, and coffee industry partners and friends during this difficult time.

​​Sincerely,
​​Lisanne Walker & Keenan Walker

This story is developing. 

Zac Cadwalader is the managing editor at Sprudge Media Network and a staff writer based in Dallas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.

Top image via Coffee At Large.

 

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