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

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 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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