Redlands: Employees say Augie's Coffee closed all locations for reasons other than those stated by business

REDLANDS, Calif. (KABC) -- Augie's Coffee is where customers in Riverside, Redlands and Claremont can go to find an oat honey latte or horchata cold-brew for their caffeine fix. But on Monday, customers looking for their morning cup of joe walked away empty handed after the coffee shop closed all locations citing health and safety concerns due to the global pandemic.

"I've always gone to Augie's, it's kind of disappointing to hear that," said customer Andy Hegel.

But, laid off employees are alleging the sudden closure came after they tried to unionize back on June 26th.

"As workers in an industry that promotes taking care of its people and promotes ethical labor practices, we should be able to talk to our boss about things that affect our lives, " said Kelly Bader, a former barista at its Redlands location.

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Employees said they were notified they were laid off Sunday in an email an hour before the company posted its statement to its social media pages. Former employees went to the company's roasting facility on Monday looking to speak with Austin Amento who owns the coffee shops with his father.

Bader said talk of unionizing has been in the works for a while but came after some co-worker felt uncomfortable returning to work during the early days of the coronavirus outbreak. He said management tried to replace them without telling those employees.

"Sort of borne out of that was a conversation about a union," said Bader. "The idea that if we work together and we collaborate with management we can protect our jobs and have our voices be heard in a more meaningful way."

In a statement posted to Instagram Augie's Coffee cited its own "firsthand experience" with friends and employee at other local businesses infected with COVID-19, "Serving coffee is not worth that; it is too big of a risk and is not the priority."
All its locations will be closed indefinitely according to the statement, "we need time to reevaluate how Augie's can operate safely in the future, given the reality of the prolonged effect of this virus."

While the post links the closure to the pandemic, Redlands store manager Katie Walsh said business had returned to normal and that the owners had applied for and received federal funding under the Paycheck Protection Program.

"Within the last month, we really started picking up again as people started going outside more, our numbers were rising," said Walsh. "We stayed open so they could collect that money."

Employees said they will file an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. They also hope to get their jobs back when Augie's eventually reopens.

Augie's Coffee did not return ABC7's request for comment.
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