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After Hard-Fought Campaign, Fired IWW Union Barista Jeff Bauer Achieves Victory at Ozzie’s Coffee & Tea!

By NYC Wobblies

Brooklyn, NY - After an aggressive nine month campaign consisting of both legal action and increasingly more militant direct action, the New York City branch of the Industrial Workers of the World was victorious in seeking justice for fellow worker Jeff Bauer, who was fired from the 7th Ave location of Ozzie’s Coffee & Tea on June 29, 2010.

Jeff Bauer worked at the independent Park Slope coffee shop, a neighborhood institution, for over a year and proved himself to be a hard worker with a strong work ethic. The quality of his labor was never questioned before his union affiliation with the IWW was leaked to management when Bauer helped organize a May Day benefit for the NYC branch of the IWW in 2010. In fact, Bauer was offered the Store Manager position, before it was given to Raphael Bernadine, but turned it down on principle as it went against his political beliefs as both an anarchist and a Wobbly. When management was made aware Bauer was organizing with the One Big Union their response was harsh and relentless. Bauer was subjected to mistreatment, harassment, and verbal abuse on a daily basis.

In June of 2010 Bauer suffered a severe cut in hours when he stood up for a coworker who was physically assaulted and threatened by Store Manager Raphael Bernadine’s boyfriend, an ex-cop, on the shop floor. In response to this retaliatory attack on Bauer’s right to defend his coworker from a violent confrontation, as well as his legally protected right to discuss workplace conditions, Bauer led a union delegation of six Wobblies and supporters into Ozzie’s Coffee & Tea. The purpose of this “March on the Boss” was to deliver a demand letter directly to Bernadine and officially notify him of Bauer’s affiliation with the IWW. Bauer’s list of demands included his hours be restored to 40, his only written warning be retracted and removed from his permanent record, an immediate cease to any and all harassment and/or retaliation based upon his union affiliation and for Ozzie’s to obey all federal labor laws, including those that relate to paid overtime.

When Ozzie’s co-owner Melissa Azulai found out about the demand letter, and the fraudulent and unnecessary 911 call, Jeff Bauer was immediately removed from the schedule and unlawfully terminated a week later. Azulai didn’t have the decency to fire Bauer to his face; instead she informed his then legal counsel, friend and comrade Daniel Gross, via a phone call. During this same phone conversation Azulai told FW Gross that “this will all blow over, it always does.” Gross informed Azulai that that’s not how the IWW operates, that when we start a campaign we stick with it until the bitter end. When Azulai refused to reinstate Bauer, Gross helped Bauer file Unfair Labor Practices (ULPs) with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). At the same time the NYC branch of the IWW launched an aggressive campaign of direct action that ranged from union-wide phone and email zaps to increasingly more spirited pickets and demonstrations in front of the store.

Six months later, on December 23, 2010, Region 29 of the NLRB found merit with Bauer’s claims and issued a complaint against Ozzie’s Coffee & Tea. A February 8, 2011 hearing date was set to take place in front of an administrative law judge. This was later postponed due to the beginning of heated settlement talks between Azulai’s lawyer, Eric M. Baum, Esq. from Simon, Eisenberg & Baum, and Bauer’s legal representation Benjamin N. Dictor and Quisquella Addison, legal interns from the Labor and Employment Law Clinic of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, under co-directors Dan Silverman & Michael Silverman.

After a boisterous “punk percussion protest” involving whistles, pots and pans, noisemakers and the radical marching band Rude Mechanical Orchestra, Ozzie’s Coffee & Tea finally caved to increasingly militant union pressure and rising legal fees. In mid-March 2011 Ozzie’s signed a settlement in Bauer’s favor, worth $15,500. Daniel Gross, co-founder of the IWW-Starbucks Workers Union, said of the victory “"The right to form a labor union is fundamental; campaign victories like Jeff's are critical to making that right real. This win is a great testament to the power of creative and determined worker-led campaigns."

Liberte Locke, one of the main organizers in the IWW-SWU, said “FW Bauer’s victory is a great inspiration to every Wobbly barista out there. He has been a driving force of solidarity behind the Starbucks Workers Union for many years. He has stood with us, so we stood with him. That is solidarity unionism. The SWU toasts his hard-fought victory.”

According to the terms of the NLRB settlement, Bauer is to be made whole for all lost wages, estimated tips and overtime pay in the amount of $15,400 by May 29, 2011, nearly a year after he was fired for organizing. An additional $100 is attached to a side agreement. Ozzie’s co-owners Melissa and Alon Azulai have agreed to pay Bauer in three monthly installments.

In addition to making Bauer whole for lost wages, Ozzie’s is required by the NLRB to conspicuously display a notice stating that they “will not discharge, issue warnings to, reduce the work hours of, or otherwise discriminate against, any employee for engaging in activities on behalf of Industrial Workers of the World, or any other labor organizations, or for engaging in protected concerted activities.”

The notice goes on to state that Ozzie’s Coffee & Tea “will pay Jeff Bauer the wages and other benefits he lost because of the alleged discrimination against him” and that “Bauer indicated that he does not want to return to work and would not accept an offer of employment.”

Furthermore, Ozzie’s is required to notify Bauer in writing that they have removed from their files any references to his warning and discharge, and that the warning and discharge will not be used against him in any way.

“Ozzie’s violated my legally protected right to join, form or assist a union” Bauer said. “They harassed me, retaliated against me, reduced my hours, demoted me and terminated me for engaging in protected concerted activity.”

“I’m happy that this is almost all behind me. I can move on knowing that at least one boss will think twice before interfering with a worker’s right to organize for respect and dignity on the job and for a safe, non-hostile work environment.”

Bauer is now employed as a proud, dual union card carrying janitor at the College of Staten Island, and a Wobbly for life.

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