SEATTLE — Just a few weeks after more than a dozen Seattle baristas quit their jobs at Slate Coffee Roasters due to a “toxic” work environment, they launched a social media movement that's gained a big following.
Samantha Capell, the former store manager at Slate Coffee Roasters in Ballard, said some of the company's employees have dealt with bullying and intimidation, dishonesty, discrimination, disingenuous promises, and late pay or missed paychecks altogether.
"Baristas live paycheck to paycheck," said Capell. "I was waiting on a paycheck from January until the middle of March, and I would follow up every few days."
On Saturday, June 22 at least five employees quit their jobs at Slate Coffee, according to Capell. She said their action inspired others to leave some of the other company locations as well.
The Ballard location even closed down that day since so many employees left at once. A note was left for customers on the door explaining why they had left.
"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...To our customers, y'all are the best, it has been our absolute joy serving you," the note read.
Capell said she and a few other employees planned to quit on the same day in solidarity, but ended up having to act early since she claims she was terminated for misreading her work schedule. She didn't show up and said she had missed the phone calls, but also said she would have quit anyway.
"Nobody see's what's happening behind the scenes, so if the public can keep them accountable then that is going to cause change," Capell said.
KING 5 reached out to the owners at the company several times through phone, email, and in person. The company has not yet responded to KING 5 about the claims made by the baristas.
Slate Coffee acknowledged the situation in an Instagram post on June 22. The statement said, in part, "As a family-owned business, we understand that tough conversations can turn into constructive growth."
Capell and the group of baristas who quit have created an Instagram page called "Coffee at Large" with over 7,500 followers so far.
Curious customers, and fellow baristas near and far have reached out through the page, sharing their stories as well.
"Initially it was just a little bit of a public announcement. We didn't see ourselves gaining a following so much," said Rachel Hopke.
Hopke worked at Slate Coffee for less than two months before walking out. Not because she had experienced much of the working conditions baristas described in their note to customers, but because she had seen and heard enough.
"As we gained a larger following, we realized that we could do something with our platform," she continued.
The baristas have three main goals with their Instagram page: to shed a light on the issues coffee workers face while giving baristas a voice, to provide support to other baristas, and to educate employers.
Jason Butler, who worked at Slate Coffee for two and a half years before quitting, said he didn't do it because he himself was experiencing what others had, but because he didn't think what he was seeing was right.
"Coffee workers and workers in every industry deserve respect, and if it's an opportunity for us to push for that, I want to take every opportunity I am given," Butler said.
Slate Coffee Roasters has a handful of locations in Seattle.
Hopke said what happened at Slate Coffee is happening at coffee shops everywhere.
"You can really empower people working for you, or you can do the opposite," she said.