A barista at a beloved area coffee shop claims he was wrongly terminated over the summer for his union affiliation and is seeking legal action against his former employer.
Jeff Bauer, 41, had worked at at Seventh Avenue and Lincoln Place for almost a year when he was terminated. Last Wednesday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decided to issue a complaint against the coffee shop.
According to Bauer, he was constantly praised by management as a model employee and even offered the manager position, which he turned down.
"Politically as an anarchist and union organizer, it didn't coincide with my politics," Bauer said.
Then Bauer said he began organizing a May Day benefit for his union, the International Workers of the World (also known as the Wobblies). The IWW is an international union that believes all workers should be united and the wage system must be abolished.
Bauer began inviting his coworkers to organize, and he believes someone leaked his union affiliation to management. Bauer said manager Raphael Bernadine questioned him about his union membership.
"Suddenly I went from a model employee to being the worst worker," Bauer recalled.
But Store Manager Raphael Bernadine said Bauer's accusations are entirely false.
"Nobody knew he was in a union. I can swear to that," Bernadine said.
In early June, Bauer said a confrontation between a coworker and Bernadine's boyfriend led to a screaming fight in the basement of the coffee shop. During and after the fight, the former barista said he was left to work the coffee shop alone for three hours.
"I was choking back tears," Bauer said. "When customers asked what was wrong, I answered honestly and explained the incident to customers and expressed anger at the hostile work conditions."
He also stood up for his coworker to the manager, he said. Afterwards, Bauer claims his hours were slashed from over 40 hours a week to around 20, so Bauer led a union delegation into Ozzie's with six other union members to deliver a demand letter, asking for the return to his original 40 plus hours among other requests.
After that, Bauer said he was left off the schedule entirely and was fired on June 29. He then filed charges of unfair labor practices with the NLRB on July 2.
Bauer believes he was fired "simply for organizing," but Bernadine disagrees. He said Bauer was fired for not doing his job.
Bernadine said Bauer was neglecting simple duties, such as making coffee correctly and keeping the store clean. As for the incident leading up to Bauer's termination, the store manager said it never took place.
"It's so unfortunate that he's telling these lies. There was no fight. There was never any fight in the store," Bernadine said.
Bauer along with other IWW members have organized pickets and call-ins to ask the store to give the barista his job back.
Bernadine said that most people who call the store do not even know what happened or who Jeff Bauer is.
"For example, there were two people who came into the store and started cussing the employees but didn't even know his name. They kept saying to give Ozzie his job back," Bernadine said.
Bernadine also stated that the protesting has not affected Ozzie's because loyal customers know the allegations are entirely untrue.
Bauer has yet to find another job, and the legal battle continues. He is asking for the reinstatement of his job will full back pay, but Bernadine doubts that will happen.
"I don't think it would be fair to hire someone who has been so dishonest publicly. How could we trust him in the shop?" said Bernadine.