‘Gorilla’ warfare as entire staff quits Fifth Ave coffee bar

for The Brooklyn Paper
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A coffee war erupted over the weekend when employees at Park Slope’s beloved Gorilla Coffee staged a walkout, leaving java lovers jonesing for a caffeine fix — and the owners scrambling to find new baristas.

On Friday, a longstanding conflict between the staff and one of the business partners came to a head when employees demanded that the partner, Carol McLaughlin, be removed from day-to-day operations at the Fifth Avenue coffee bar.

Many longstanding issues have “repeatedly been brushed aside and ignored,” the workers wrote in a missive. The result, they said, was “a perpetually malicious, hostile, and demeaning work environment” that was “unhealthy” and “unworkable.”

The workers added that the wholesale walkout was not meant as a bargaining chip. Indeed, they have no intention of returning to the coffee bar, which is at Park Place.

Since issuing their broadside, the employees have dodged all press calls.

McLaughlin and co-owner Darleen Scherer have been plotting their next move at their Sunset Park roasting facility, where they’re still cranking out beans for retailers who sell Gorilla blends. Neither would comment, but Scherer said that the pair is “still figuring everything out” and would reopen as soon as possible.

Earlier, however, Scherer told The New York Times that the employees had made “an unreasonable request, and then they didn’t have any way to go but out.”

She added that McLaughlin was often “like a drill sergeant,” but only because training a barista is such a rigorous undertaking.

In a world where Japanese slow drip coffee, manual espresso machines and perfect foam hearts on every latte are now de rigueur, pouring coffee has become more than just your average after-school job, but an artistic exercise that may be a little more than the Gorilla coffee employees signed up for.

Scherer told the Times that they were surprised by the confrontation, but the letter from Gorilla’s employees made it clear that this confrontation was months in the making.

The e-mail stated that several staff members had left in the past few years due to the same undisclosed issues with McLaughlin. When told that McLaughlin was no longer affiliated with the company, some of the departed staff members returned, only for McLaughlin to return to her duties at the coffee shop after six weeks.

Even labor union activists said they’d never seen anything like the mass exodus. Daniel Gross, who is involved with organizing Starbucks workers for the International Workers of the World union, said that it is highly unusual for employees to take such tightly choreographed action over who the boss will be.

And Bill Granfield, president of a union that represents workers in the hospitality industry, said that it’s even more unusual for almost an entire company to quit with no desire to bargain.

“We get it all the time, people coming in and wanting to take action against their supervisors and managers,” said Granfield, of UNITE HERE Local 100. “What we don’t everyday get is 10 people walking off the job for good. That’s a little harder to understand.”

Updated 5:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

g from park slope says:
not on sackett st
April 13, 2010, 7:36 am
John from East Williamsburg says:
Oh, my god! You showed them! Now where will they find workers who can pour coffee???
April 13, 2010, 9:05 am
carlos from park slope says:
most overrated coffee in the world anyways. but i didnt know they had so many internal problems... i guess thats why the baristas never really impressed me, they were very impersonal imo
April 13, 2010, 9:39 am
Lawrence Gordon says:
I don't drink coffee. After reading this article and the letter from the workers I still have no insight into the issues that led to the walk-out.
April 13, 2010, 11:21 am
tee from Park slope says:
Yay! first the coffee shop, next the republican party! Sanity on the march!
April 13, 2010, 1:07 pm
Mike Curatore from Carroll Gardens says:
Maybe now we'll get some good service out of properly trained baristas who aren't still living at home with their parents and who don't know the first thing about customer service. Reagan busted the air traffic controllers. Gorilla should bust the baristas. You go, Carol!
April 13, 2010, 2:40 pm
Interested from Queens says:
Seeking former Gorilla Coffee employees (East Village)

Date: 2010-04-12, 4:10PM EDT
Reply to: [Errors when replying to ads?]

Seeking former Gorilla Coffee baristas/roasters/coffee-house employees we are looking for you!

A brand new establishment in the heart of the East Village promising to pay top dollar to former employees of Gorilla Coffee (in Park Slope).

We would love to offer you a new opportunity at a new coffee house which promises fair management.

Please respond with a resume as well as the time period that you were employed at Gorilla.
April 13, 2010, 5:34 pm
m from kensignton says:
Good their coffee is not good anyway
April 14, 2010, 10:56 am
Richie rich from parkslope says:
Thats why I go to Starbucks.
April 15, 2010, 10:26 am
chris from slope says:
Wow, to have a group of underpaid typically self-involved folk (have you ever met a barista who was not?) agree on a single topic and leave en masse suggests there some truth to their complaint that Ms. McLaughlin is unbearable. I will return when it opens for no other reason (bc honestly, their coffee really is not special trip worthy) than to get an eye full of her. Sounds like someone needs some therapy.
April 17, 2010, 12:34 pm
sheetrockboy from pk slope says:
OK, now I've got the whole picture.

Before I thought it was only the staff that was rude, humorless and indifferent. Now I see it was from the top down.

Wake up and smell the coffee, girls.
April 17, 2010, 6:38 pm
JavaBoy from Park Slope says:
I'll NEVER go back there again I'm going to tell everyone I know also.... there is NEVER a reason to treat anyone so badly....
April 18, 2010, 8:19 am
William from Park Slope says:
"Daniel Gross, who is involved with organizing Starbucks workers for the International Workers of the World . . . "

A correction, please, Kristen. It's the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), also known as the Wobblies. Happy to know they haven't gone away.

Wikipedia has a good article on the IWW, check it out. Apparently organizing at Starbucks is what they do nowadays.

If I see a Starbucks worker wearing an IWW button, I may have to suspend my promise to never patronize the #%&^@*! outfit that Seattleites have suffered under for many years.
April 29, 2010, 8:31 pm
Donna from Carroll Gardens says:
New to the area and some folks were talking about this issue. It is pretty disgusting that the owners were so horrible, I find it even more disgusting that the intelligent people from Park Slope still patronize this establishment. It is never good to be so mean. How awful it must have been to work there. I went in recently and it does not appear to be much different. Still unhappy, rude people and from what I hear, that is what was there before. No more coffee from that dump.
July 1, 2010, 2:12 pm
Carol from Park Slope says:
After reading this article, I can only say that Park Slope should hang its head in shame. I do not think it takes a detective to realize the unbelievable turnover that the company has had in its short life. How can something that has only been around for five years be a "staple" of the neighborhood. It sincerely is time that these leftist put their money where their mouth is. Just go somewhere else for your coffee. It is time to let the bullies of this world know we ain't gonna take it no more. The employees said volumes with thier walk out. Remember money talks-they should sell and give the employees and the neighborhood from thier neo nazi ways. Today I am ashamed of my name
July 14, 2010, 3:55 pm
happygolucky from Park Slope says:
I will NEVER endorse a company that is cruel and abusive. They will never get my dime excuse me $6.45 again. This Mclaughlin must have been completely unbearable. talked to folks that have been there recently and they said it seems no better-no changing this leopards spots
July 14, 2010, 3:57 pm
happygolucky from Park Slope says:
No good there
July 14, 2010, 3:58 pm

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