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Labor pain! Federal panel sides with fired Ozzie’s java slinger

The Brooklyn Paper
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A barista who claims that he was fired from Ozzie’s coffeehouse because of his union affiliation is being backed by the government in his fight to get his job back.

The National Labor Relations Board, which protects workers’ rights to organize, issued a complaint against the Park Slope java joint on Dec. 15 for canning Jeff Bauer last summer.

Now Ozzie’s, which has two locations in the nabe, must either settle with Bauer out of court or face a hearing with an administrative law judge, which could get Bauer his full-time job back, plus full back pay, according to Board spokeswoman Nancy Cleeland.

There is little dispute over what started the chain of events that led to Bauer’s dismissal last year.

Bauer, who worked at the Seventh Avenue location of coffee bar for nearly a year, said that his problems started when he yapped to customers about a hostile confrontation he witnessed between a co-worker and Bernadine’s boyfriend.

“I was so distraught by the argument because I saw the boyfriend grab my co-worker’s arm and it looked like it was going to turn violent,” Bauer said. “Later, when I worked the counter, customers asked me why I looked upset so I told them what happened.”

Bauer thinks that Bernadine got wind of his gossiping and took revenge by cutting his full-time hours in half.

That’s when Bauer called upon the International Workers of the World, a century-old union with its roots in fighting for wages in the 1920s, to demand that manager Raphael Bernadine restore his slashed hours.

Instead, Bauer was fired.

And that’s where the stories diverge. Bauer believes he was sacked because he sought union protection — which would be a violation of a 1935 federal law that prohibits businesses from firing an employee for union activity.

But Ozzie’s owner, Allon Azulai, maintains that Bauer’s charges are severely overcaffeinated. Bauer was not fired because of his union status, said Azulai, but because he failed to meet Ozzie’s customer service standards.

“I’m flabbergasted by this,” said Azulai, who claimed that in his 17 years as the owner of Ozzie’s has never seen an employee act like this. “We treat our employees well, but he was constantly complaining to customers and other employees. Customers didn’t like it, and it was hurting our business.”

Indeed, co-owner Melissa Azulai’s termination letter to Bauer made no mention of his union activities, citing only “poor performance” and “customer complaints” as the reasons for the sacking.

Bauer is still unemployed and he continues to hassle Ozzie’s. The disgruntled barista held two protests in front of the shop in July and says goes back periodically to hand out fliers about his plight.

The Labor Board’s involvement was first reported by Park Slope Patch, a local website.

Updated 11:59 pm, January 3, 2011
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Reasonable discourse

David from Park Slope says:
Seriously, nobody wants to stand there and listen to the guy taking my coffee order complain about anything in all honesty. I go to get a cup of coffee to get away from all the worlds nonsense for a few minutes, hence the term coffee BREAK.. to take a break from the madness... To me, my coffee break is about a pick me up, not a bring me down.. so if this guy for some reason wins his case and his employers are forced to rehire him, I'll be sure to try to get into a better meed elsewhere, rather than bear to listen to any more problems than I have to in one day!!!
Jan. 3, 2011, 8:21 am
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
Am employer can ban an employee from discussing with customers anything about the employees. That is ok. What you can't do is take ANY action against an employee for concertive action with other employees(including trying to form a Union) as long as such action is non violent. Employers are forced to rehire people everyday for various reasons. most of the time you won't know if its an rehired employee as they should keep that to themselves.
The NLRB investigates these things before they issue the charges. They give the employer a chance to explain before they decide to issue a complaint. The employer either decides not to give the information or the NLRB decided it was not a credible reason(IMO).
The hearings by the ALJ are open to the public...The ALJ will hear all the evidence and make a recommendation including making recommendations as to credibility, until then all you have is a complaint.
After the hearing the ALJ recommendations are forwarded to the NLRB in DC which will ultimately issue a decision. That decision may be appealed to courts. Most of the time the courts defer to the NLRB but not always(I as GC for a labor Union and testified before congress on a NLRB issue)...
Jan. 3, 2011, 9:38 am
East New York from Crown Heights says:

The article is pretty poorly written. The reporter fails to properly identify Bernadine until three paragraphs after he is referred to. The editors for some reason let this stand. Pretty sloppy job all around.
Jan. 3, 2011, 9:51 am
PassesGas from Tribeca says:
This is a very poorly written article indeed! Shame on the editors...
Jan. 3, 2011, 10:26 am
Jay from pslope says:
Sid, while an employer can ban an employee from discussing anything about employees with customers, they must actually do so, and they can't do it after that fact as a pretext to bar union activity.
As for the worker in question, I have no actual knowledge of the merits of his case, and this article is pretty poorly written so it does not shed much light, BUT everyone should be encouraged to stand up for themselves, too often these days people just shrug their shoulders and say what can you do or its not worth my time, which basically gives companies and government a green light to rip you off with bogus fees, bad laws, corruption etc. If everyone complained every time, a lot of these issues would stop.
Jan. 3, 2011, 1:04 pm
Al from Park Slope says:
As I have said in posts for other articles, lets say he becomes successful and helps the powers that be form a union for coffee shop and deli counter workers.... I hope everyone will enjoy their $10 cup of joe and $15 blueberry muffin.

Whereas it may not be 100% true that illegals do the work in this country that americans will not do, the non american employee sure as heck helps keep prices down on a lot of basic everyday items because the coffee house (at least not yet) does not have to pay their employees and their unions $20 hr plus full benefits to fetch you a coffee and muffin....
Jan. 3, 2011, 1:27 pm
Rob from Greenpoint says:
Guy sounds like a royal pain in the ass.
Jan. 3, 2011, 2:42 pm
ABS from Crown Heights says:
I used to work at the Ozzie's on Seventh Ave and it was a great place to work. Decent pay, flexible scheduling, great managers (including Raphael who's been there for years!), and Melissa (the owner) was always really sweet and helpful.

The only person they fired while I worked there was constantly complaining to Melissa about his hours being wrong, and was generally an unpleasant person to be around. I'm going to take the owners' word for it on this one that the employee was in the wrong.
Jan. 4, 2011, 12:48 pm
tommy from BH says:
hey Al, there's no citizenship requirement to join a union.
Jan. 4, 2011, 11:09 pm
wingedearth from Prospect Park South says:
Labor laws are stupid and should be repealed. Why should Ozzie's have to employ someone they don't want? It's none of the government's business.
Jan. 5, 2011, 4:42 pm
Al from Park Slope says:
Tommy: of course, but the day I see one of those giant rats outside of a coffee shop for not hiring union only coffee fetchers, I will officially declare this country NUTS!!!!
Jan. 6, 2011, 9:12 am
Jacob from PS says:
While I worked at a newspaper for years, anyone reading this story, including those commenting on the atrocious lack of organisation, and just dung-hung grammar - get a huge thumbs up. There must be some affiliation with this unemployable guy and the Brooklyn Paper - because frankly, anyone with a business who is brain dead isn't going to hire this guy, especially after so many inconsistencies with his stories have been published. It's in the print at other (sorry) much more newsworthy sources: The Public-at-large.
Jan. 10, 2011, 6:30 pm

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