On July 4th, Augie’s Coffee, which is a branch of five coffee shops in the Inland Empire region of California, announced that they would be closing their retail locations. They made this announcement on social media and cited concerns because of COVID-19 as the reason they were closing their doors. And because of the stores closing, they were also laying off 54 members of their retail staff.
However, just a week prior, on June 26th, dozens of Augie’s employees were sitting in a town hall with the owners of Augie’s Coffee. Co-owners and father/son duo Austin and Andy Amento, listened to concerns from employees about the way the company was handling the coronavirus—remember the cafe shut down in July, almost four months after shelter-in-place order became widespread across the nation. They also expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of wage increases and job security they felt at work. Unionizing was a way to make their concerns heard.
In this episode, I talk to two members of the Augie’s Union—the union has yet to be recognized by the Amentos. Brianda Medina and Jina Edwards have worked for Augie’s for years: Brianda for eight and Jina for two and a half, and they tell us what it’s like to try to improve their workplace, a company they’ve been part of for years—and how little contact they’ve had with ownership.
It’s funny that Augie’s is a family-run company, because the use of the term “family” when it comes to employing people—telling them you care about them like they’re your family, or that we all work together as a family—comes up a lot, and I imagine this isn’t unique to Augie’s. By forming a union and then losing their jobs, the former employees of Augie’s had to contend with what that actually meant, and whose interests are really being protected in situations where one person holds all the power.