Following a successful effort to unionize by workers at the lone SPoT Coffee location in Rochester, New York, three employees at locations in the Buffalo area claim they have been illegally fired for exploring unionization.
Charges have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) by Workers United Rochester Regional Joint Board, the union that is representing the Rochester workers, and protests in support of the fired trio have been taking place outside numerous Buffalo locations of SPoT over the past week.
In written statements, SPoT Coffee CEO Anton Ayoub has publicly denied the allegations, saying the company supported the respected the workers’ rights to organize in Rochester, and that the workers in Buffalo were fired for legitimate reasons.
According to numerous reports, Buffalo-area SPoT employees Lukas Weinstein, Phoenix Cerny and Philip Kneitinger were all fired within days of one other after attending a meeting also attended by Cory Johnson of the Rochester location and employees of numerous Buffalo SPoT locations.
Kneitinger told Daily Coffee News that the meeting with Johnson was informational in nature, after the Rochester members voted overwhelmingly to unionize in late May.
“It was just for him to tell us his story, the story of Rochester organizing,” Kneitinger said. “It wasn’t meant to be a strategic meeting.”
Cerny and Kneitinger said SPoT Coffee COO Dan Hensley pressed Weinstein, who was a manager of the Williamsville location outside Buffalo, to divulge the names of employees who attended the meeting. Weinstein declined and was fired two days later, according to Cerny and Kneitinger, who said they were fired two days after Weinstein.
“I was never given a reason for being terminated,” Cerny said, “[but] it’s definitely because of the meeting, and perhaps the following discussions that we were having with our coworkers.”
Reached for comment, SPoT CEO Anton Ayoub provided Daily Coffee News with the following written statement, which was also published on the company’s Facebook page:
At this time the matter concerning the discharge of three SPoT Coffee employees is now formally before the National Labor Relations Board. Consequently the company believes it is not appropriate to make any comments on these proceedings. As stated in the company’s earlier media release, SPoT Coffee continues to deny these allegations. The three employees – two of whom were part time – were discharged for lawful business reasons. The entire SPoT Coffee team greatly appreciates the support it has received from many of our customers during this difficult time.
Cerny said the intention behind filing formal charges with the NLRB is to have the three employees reinstated and to prevent the company from interfering in future union organization efforts. Said Cerny, “This has always been about the ability for us to exercise our rights, and to be respected by the company.”
Numerous SPoT baristas at protest sites in the Buffalo area expressed dissatisfaction with how the company allegedly responded to the initial Buffalo unionization meeting, as well as with how the company has responded to the dispute since.
Said Kay Kennedy, a shift manager who worked with Kneitinger at the Hertel Ave. location and also attended the protests, “I think corporate made a big mistake with the way they handled their announcements, just based on how customers have reacted to it and how slow business has been for my particular cafe.”
Kneitinger said more protests have been planned at various Buffalo-area SPoT locations.
“We’re going to continue to build support within the community, to hopefully give SPoT time to see the error of their ways and make the decision of their own accord to reinstate us,” Kneitinger said. “After reinstatement, we’ll talk to our coworkers and they may decide, via voting, that we don’t even want a union, and that’s perfectly fine. But that’s up to us to decide.”
SPoT Coffee currently has 16 company- or franchise-owned retail locations in Upstate New York and Connecticut, plus licensed locations in Dash’s Markets and Buffalo State College.