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Java Hut workers Unionizing Amid Allegations

By Matt Elder - Daily Collegian November 18, 2004.

SUNDERLAND - A local business is going through the process of unionizing, and that has led to very tense moments at the coffee shop, leading to accusations and allegations.

According to two employees, Java Hut, a coffee shop in Sunderland, has begun working with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) to get legal advice and start the process of forming a union.

"We're looking to start a union," said Java Hut employee Erin McElroy. McElroy and Matthew Roth, another employee, have said that their employers do not want them to join a union and have harassed various employees to intimidate them from joining a union.

"They've brought some people to tears," McElroy said of her boss' pressure.

Roth said that the union the employees are either now in, or trying to join, is the Industrial Union 660 (IU660), which is a branch of the IWW. He said that a majority of the employees are already in the union. Co-owner Daren Pierce said that the rest of the employees will vote in the next few weeks about the rest joining.

Pierce, who owns the store with his brother Sean, has a much different side of the story. Both he and his brother maintain that they have not intimidated the employees.

"I'm not against the union," he said. Pierce said that his main problems with the employees forming a union is that it will affect his day-to-day decisions, such as allowing people to leave for the day when business is slow, that will now have to be a union decision.

"We've done nothing but try to run a good business," he said.

Pierce said that he didn't know what his legal rights were and what the employees' legal rights were. He also said he had to hire a costly lawyer to learn of these things.

According to the employees, there are many concerns between everyone at Java Hut.

McElroy said that the employees at the coffee shop are most upset about what happened to two employees right around the time they approached Pierce about a union.

McElroy said that the two employees were fired when they said that they wanted to join a union, but Pierce said that the employees had a problem with a manager and said that the employees told him that either the manager would leave or they would leave.

"They gave their resignation and all I did was accept it," Pierce said.

According to McElroy, many employees have a problem with the hiring of the manager, especially when the owners talk to financial hardships. She said that the manager had no prior experience in coffee shops.

"A lot of us folks are upset at us hiring him," McElroy said.

Pierce said that several employees had a problem with the manager, and they made accusations of him yelling at customers. He said that he followed up on the allegations and that they proved to be false.

Roth said that he had more concerns.

"There's a whole slew of problems," he said.

He added that he wanted a union to change many things, including the unfair firings, inconsistency in disciplinary actions and safety concerns. Roth said that they have some faulty electrical equipment in the store that haven't been totally fixed, and that there have been fires at the store.

"[We want to] change the dynamics of the work environment," Roth said.

According to Roth, at a scheduled meeting on Nov. 3, the employees approached the owners about joining a union. He said that the owners told everyone who was already in a union to leave. He claims he briefly left and the owners interrogated other employees about their involvement.

Roth said that on Nov. 6, high tech surveillance cameras were installed.

"They are trying to monitor us," he said, adding that he thinks they want to know who is in the union and will slowly fire everyone.

However, Roth, who described the working atmosphere as "tense", thinks that this matter is a different battle than just them trying to start a union.

"This is a clear example of a class struggle," he said of the employees versus the employers. Roth said that the employers said that them joining a union will greatly affect them financially, which Pierce agreed with.

Pierce said that Java Hut is a Ma and Pa store, and that the owners work from paycheck to paycheck. He said that he and his brother work very hard, and both get to the shop at 5:30 a.m. every day.

"We're a small business and have done a lot for this community," he said.

This article and its contents are the product of the publisher, and their opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the IWW. It's included here for information purposes only.