This previous summer time, as restaurant employees throughout America had been revolting towards working circumstances and wages with work stoppages and mass resignations, a small group of back-of-house employees at upmarket Texas-based juice chain JuiceLand sparked a strike that introduced the corporate to a standstill.
After an extended 12 months of working by the pandemic, and several other of coping with unresponsive administration, JuiceLand employees had sufficient in Might 2021. The strike started on Might 14 when, after a failed assembly with company management, 10 employees on the central manufacturing kitchen in Austin walked off the job. Inside per week, some 80 employees had joined within the work stoppage, leading to short-term closures throughout 9 places.
Staff concerned with the strike stated they needed the demonstration restricted to JuiceLand employees; they selected to not accomplice with an exterior union as a result of they needed to stay unbiased of out of doors affect. As a substitute, they established an worker committee to signify employees on behalf of administration, with out the assist of a union. Although a number of unions did attain out, the strikers in the end selected to stay self-organized and didn’t search to formally unionize amid the strike.
Whereas a months-long strike and social media actions did efficiently win some concessions from JuiceLand administration throughout the first few days — modest wage will increase and the implementation of recent human assets insurance policies — it in the end fell in need of attaining its acknowledged calls for: resolving how to answer particular allegations of sexual harassment and racial discrimination. Inside per week, talks between strike representatives and JuiceLand administration foundered.
Staff had been then given an ultimatum: Return to their jobs or get replaced. Most returned, and by the top of Might, the final of the impacted places reopened for enterprise. As of this writing, 65 of the 80 putting employees are again on the job, and the rest have been changed.
The blended outcomes of their effort reveal each the potential and limitations of what a non-union restaurant employee strike can accomplish, in addition to the dangers that non-union strikers face if negotiations with administration don’t go so easily.
JuiceLand began from humble origins within the early 2000s when founder and CEO Matt Shook opened the unique location close to Barton Springs. Since then, the chain has grown to 35 places throughout Austin, Houston, and Dallas, using almost 600 staffers.
The corporate has a popularity for touting its environmentally aware practices and laid-back tradition. “I believe the notion continues to be that we’re nothing however a bunch of slacker hippies, and that’s nice,” Shook advised Austin Month-to-month in January 2021.
However based on three JuiceLand employees and one former worker that agreed to talk with Eater Austin on the situation of anonymity, the vibe behind the scenes wasn’t as copacetic as marketed. Their names have been modified for readability. Every declare has been independently corroborated by coworkers on background. Representatives for Juiceland declined to handle particular incidents and allegations associated to workers with Eater. Lengthy hours, issues round pay, a perceived hole between the acknowledged values of the corporate and the day-to-day experiences of employees, and particular alleged incidents of harassment and discrimination contributed to rising dissatisfaction amongst some JuiceLand employees, mirroring broader business developments.
Certainly one of these workers, Taylor, spent his days out of consumers’ sights on the JuiceLand manufacturing kitchen processing fruit and greens for use in retail shops throughout the state. Taylor preferred the job. He’d been working there for a number of years by the point the strike began. Most of his coworkers had been straightforward sufficient to be round and he didn’t should cope with prospects, so issues had been comparatively drama-free. However beginning in October 2019, Taylor claims he started to endure common sexual misconduct from a fellow employee.
“They’d stand outdoors my automotive, attempt to chew me on the shoulder, or push towards me once I would stroll by,” Taylor recounted to Eater Austin. The alleged habits went on for a number of months till, in December 2019, Taylor raised the problem along with his superiors. “I introduced it as much as my managers on the time, which looking back was a mistake. They by no means reported it to HR.”
Michael, one other manufacturing kitchen worker, witnessed a few of these occasions Taylor skilled. “They’d taunt [Taylor] outdoors of the toilet stall and fake to chew his neck, like in a sexual manner,” Michael says.
Michael and Taylor had been among the many 10 employees who participated within the preliminary walkout on Might 14 that sparked the strike. They each shared the story of a former coworker, Brandon, who had endured racist harassment between April and November 2019 from one other employee on the manufacturing kitchen.
“He would say racist issues to me,” Brandon advised Eater. Brandon recounted different incidents which he described as microaggressions, together with “threats of being stabbed, shot.”
Brandon says he introduced these incidents up with JuiceLand administration each time they occurred, however feels his allegations weren’t taken severely. “I advised them what [the alleged harasser] stated intimately,” Brandon says. “And one of the simplest ways to explain how they handled it’s non-confrontational. I believe they didn’t need to acknowledge that an worker they’d trusted for years would say gross issues on a regular basis.”
Taylor recounted an incident the place Brandon obtained right into a tense argument with that exact coworker in October 2019. “Someday they had been taking out the trash to the compost and he had stated one thing to [Brandon],” Taylor says. “I don’t know what precisely he stated because it was some time again, however they obtained right into a verbal altercation, after which the non-Black worker went to the managers and advised them [Brandon] was being aggressive and threatening … After which a couple of month later, Brandon was fired as a result of he was late, and the opposite worker was promoted to supervisor.”
Kathleen Lucente, a company spokesperson for JuiceLand, dismisses the claims that administration has tolerated discrimination and harassment inside its ranks. “As a result of we don’t touch upon particular person conditions, our solely response is that each one allegations dropped at our consideration had been investigated,” Lucente wrote in an announcement to Eater. “Though not everybody will all the time agree on the outcomes or know all the small print of an investigation, we don’t tolerate harassment as a corporation.”
Because the months handed, dissatisfaction with administration grew, notably with the supervisor who had been promoted within the wake of Brandon’s firing. The low employees morale on the manufacturing facility was compounded by a grueling 12-hour Mom’s Day shift in Might 2021. Staff needed to fill extra orders than common whereas short-staffed — a standard theme within the service business throughout the pandemic that’s fueled related employee organizing. The subsequent day, 10 employees took their issues to administration, demanding a gathering with the JuiceLand director of human assets, Jennifer Cupid.
On Might 14, that two-hour assembly between the disgruntled manufacturing employees and Cupid ended with out clear decision. “A part of the rationale the assembly went so badly was they weren’t in a position to give the solutions we had been in search of,” Michael says.
Three of the ten employees resigned on the spot. The remainder determined to go on strike. They walked to a close-by bar and commenced reaching out to retailer employees and supply drivers through textual content and group chats, inviting them to hitch in a piece stoppage.
The subsequent day, staffers on the South First retailer joined within the strike and quickly shut down the situation. An indication was posted on the window acknowledging what had occurred. It learn: “We’re becoming a member of different JuiceLands + our manufacturing warehouse in a strike for higher wages, working circumstances, + accountability for racism and sexism throughout the firm.”
As phrase unfold through group textual content, extra retail employees refused to indicate as much as work. “I personally have actually loved working for JuiceLand and that’s one motive why I’m on this strike,” Lee, a retail employee, advised Eater in June. “As a result of I would like this firm that I’ve actually loved working for to be higher to its workers.”
That very same day, Cupid despatched a company-wide e-mail saying a assured $15 an hour after ideas for retail employees, which was up from its then-standard of $12.50. “You’ve expressed your issues, and we’ve listened,” Cupid wrote within the e-mail, which was supplied to Eater. “That’s why we’re saying that, beginning 5/16/2021, all store crews shall be assured $15/hr, which means in case you make lower than $15 per hour after ideas per pay interval, we are going to stage you up.”
On Might 15, the strikers rejected administration’s proposal and supplied a set of counter calls for: elevated wages for each retail and manufacturing employees, approval of managers by employee vote, minimal staffing necessities, additional time pay, improved office sanitation, and no retaliation towards strikers.
The strikers publicly shared the calls for by an Instagram account. The subsequent day, employees additionally shared nameless, unverified accounts additional detailing allegations of racism and sexism at JuiceLand.
Following this rebuttal, JuiceLand administration raised wages to $17, however regardless of this concession, tensions escalated over the next week. At this level, dozens had been on strike and 9 representatives had been elected to attend a six-hour marathon assembly on Might 17 the place JuiceLand administration supplied demonstrators the chance to assist write a joint assertion to provide an replace to workers on the firm on the standing of those negotiations.
However when it got here time to evaluate the draft accredited by administration, the strikers say they had been dismayed by what they noticed. “It lacked a variety of factors,” says Michael, who was concerned within the negotiations, “the largest one being that many of the points stemmed from Black and Brown people simply not being heard on the job.”
Specifically, strikers say that JuiceLand administration didn’t agree that the incidents of racism and sexism had been systemic points on the firm and that the strike had originated from the walkout of primarily Black and Brown workers on the manufacturing kitchen.
JuiceLand management in the end determined to ship the e-mail with out the employee committee’s enter. “It was content material we hadn’t agreed was correct,” Lucente says. “We knew we had claims and issues we wanted to dig into so we could possibly be well-informed, and never solely reactive. Due to this fact we moved ahead internally with what we knew to be true as an applicable replace,” she says of the company response.
The divide between strikers and administration sharpened over the course of the following week. Strikers criticized administration on Instagram whereas JuiceLand administration revealed an FAQ web page aimed to rebut striker allegations.
“We might have been completely happy to concern a joint assertion of ideas,” one reply reads. “However the protestors needed one thing fairly totally different: they had been demanding that we falsely state that we now have a racist and poisonous office. It isn’t true and we is not going to undergo that form of coercion. As a substitute, we’re placing our power towards making JuiceLand a fair higher place as we implement our Motion Plan.”
On Might 23, Dallas strikers had been knowledgeable in an e-mail that they might get replaced if they didn’t request to return to work by June 3. The final remaining store to be impacted by the strike — the Sylvan Thirty outpost in Dallas — reopened for enterprise two days later. An analogous message was despatched to Austin strikers on June 3. “These dates had been chosen primarily based on staffing disruptions in every market,” Lucente explains.
Regardless of the return of most strikers by early June, some stay agency of their convictions, even when it means they might by no means work at JuiceLand once more.
“I don’t anticipate to get my function again as a result of I’ve been so vocal with administration,” Taylor says. “However I would like my job again, so long as they’ll meet our circumstances, which incorporates addressing racism amongst workers and really making this the protected place that they promote themselves as.”
As of this writing, Taylor is among the many 15 strikers who haven’t returned.
Missing any actual skill to disrupt enterprise at JuiceLand, the strike has been successfully quashed, even when the organizers say in any other case.
On July 19, the holdout strikers posted an replace on Instagram, saying a pause of their social media actions. “The strike has been strenuous each emotionally and financially. Due to this fact, we now have needed to take a step again from Instagram to make sure this motion can proceed…To be clear, we’re nonetheless on strike. We don’t intend to cease till there’s actual decision relating to the grievances dropped at JuiceLand,” the publish reads.
Throughout the nation, fast-food employees have gone on strike demanding a $15 minimal wage, and by way of attaining this frequent objective, the JuiceLand strikers have fared as effectively if not higher than others. However some JuiceLand strikers need greater than only a elevate. They search to vary the tradition and have a say in how administration selections are made; in doing so, they’re preventing an uphill battle. With out the assist of a bigger, well-funded union group, it’s unclear that they ever will. Different restaurant employees have efficiently unionized elsewhere within the nation, together with Wisconsin-based chain Colectivo Espresso in August and Pacific Northwestern chain Burgerville in 2019 by aligning themselves with the Worldwide Brotherhood of Electrical Staff and Portland Industrial Staff of the World, respectively.
However, for these holdout JuiceLand strikers, the continued motion — even when solely in spirit — is about affecting actual, lasting change in an business tormented by systemic labor points and hostile work environments. “It’s about accountability for the racism, sexism, and homophobia that’s been allowed to exist inside JuiceLand,” Lee says. “We wish JuiceLand to be the protected area it claims that it’s.”