Spot Coffee workers inch closer to union contract

Goal is to ratify by end of 2019; Boycott to end after fired employees re-hired

Mike Baggerman
November 13, 2019 - 11:30 pm

Spot Coffee in Elmwood Village. November 14, 2019 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

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UPDATE: The union officially called for the end of the boycott on Thursday afternoon during a news conference at its Elmwood Avenue location.

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) – The boycott against Spot Coffee has come to an end according to key figures in the push for the unionization for the employees for the Buffalo-based coffee company. Spot employees will formally announce the end of the boycott and update the unionization process at a press event Thursday.

The company has also re-hired the two employees, Phil Kneitinger and Phoenix Cerny, that were fired over the summer with full back pay.

“Customers are so excited to see Phil and Phoenix back behind the counters slinging the coffee,” Spot Coffee employee and union organizer Kay Kennedy said. “Phoenix was thrilled and sent us a picture of their latte art the first day they came back. Baristas are a fixture of the community, especially in cafes like Spot.”

The two sides have not yet reached an agreement for a contract in Buffalo.

Richard Lipsitz, the President of the Western New York Area Labor Federation, said that the company will also come to a neutral stance on unionization of other stores that are eligible for it.

“The workers here in Buffalo learned of (unionization in Rochester) then contacted the union to come into Buffalo to organize them” Lipsitz them. “The people terminated were terminated once that happened and it was that initial event that really gave rise to the community being involved, too.”

Kennedy is optimistic that a union contract will be agreed on by the end of the year.

“Many of us believe that every worker should be in a union,” she said. “If you have a boss, you deserve a say in your workplace. But, the specific conditions that led to workers wanting to unionize are things like irregular work schedules, pay cuts, lack of benefits of the job, some workplace safety concerns, but the majority of it is us wanting dignity and a better workplace.”

She responded to criticisms of coffee shop workers wanting to organize, saying there’s no jobs that are “ordained” to be unionized. She also said that the union is effective despite not having a contract because they couldn't fight for a contract without organizing.

“The people who tell us that we shouldn’t unionize because it’s a low-wage, part-time, temporary job, I don’t care,” she said.

Lipsitz said that the same argument was used decades ago when steelworkers unionized along with the argument that prices for goods and services will also increase.

Kennedy said that she meets with management from Spot Coffee every other week. She didn’t say what the exact benefits would be for employees but said it would be better and more stable working conditions, economic bonuses, and job security.

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