Philadelphia coffee boss shutters all stores to avoid unionization
Yael Glassman / PW

PHILADELPHIA—“You cannot fire friendship!” declared workers at a recent rally protesting the closure of all OCF Coffee Houses. Less than a week after workers filed for a union, Ori Feibush, the owner of OCF Coffee and Realty, closed all three OCF stores, effective immediately.

Now, 34 workers are left jobless for exercising their right to form a union and collectively bargain. They are forced to look for new work as their livelihood has suddenly been cut off. The closure is a huge blow to the relationships workers had built with each other and with regulars at the shops.

OCF Coffee workers were organizing with Philadelphia Joint Board Workers United Local 80, a cafe workers union in Philadelphia.

Local 80 recently won a first round of contracts for many of its shops and continues to rapidly increase density in the local coffee industry. In these first contracts at Elixr, Ultimo, and Reanimator, workers have won increased base wages and a raise structure in an industry where raises are typically given randomly, if at all.

Additionally, workers at these shops are no longer fireable “at will” employees; instead, structures of “just cause” discipline have been negotiated and implemented. Contracts were hard fought, taking around a year of bargaining and a whole slate of pressure tactics in response to bosses’ union-busting and stalling.

Feibush’s decision to close all OCF Coffee Houses was sudden, and apparently even he did not expect it. In a comment defending his decision, he said, “I was not expecting today to be our last day open when I showed up to work this morning.”

One worker, Ava Alabiso, who has worked at OCF for almost three years, noted that workers “haven’t been told anything about severance or getting our sick time paid out with our next paycheck” and have had almost no communication with management since they shut down. Even their personal belongings are still locked away in the OCF shops.

Feibush claimed that he pays workers over $20-an-hour and that worker-organizers “bullied and pressured their colleagues into sticking it to the man.” However, another worker, Alex Simpson, shared that the starting wage was $9.50 with a verbal promise of an annual dollar raise.

The annual raise was one of the issues that workers cited as a reason they needed to unionize because management did not live up to that promise. After individually confronting management, workers had to fight for back pay on the raise to the day of their one-year mark.

Yael Glassman / PW

Alabiso also noted that workers were unionizing because they were dealing with health and safety issues on the job, including poor ventilation and eight-hour shifts in the kitchen with no organized break.

Oftentimes, bosses who pay their workers poverty wages and then position themselves as “victims” when workers come together and demand to bargain on equal terms. However, many of the workers here say that Feibush’s claim to “victimhood” is especially egregious given that he is the owner of OCF Realty, one of the most notorious gentrifying realty companies in Philadelphia which owns over 3,000 properties. The company which is currently being sued for discriminating against Section 8 voucher holders and just days ago closed on a 14 million dollar property.

Philadelphia Joint Board staff released a statement saying:

“OCF workers took a courageous stand against a bully boss and slumlord to say that enough is enough and they demand better working conditions. In retaliation, that same bully boss chose to shutter his operations, believing that will solve his current problem of pesky workers being so empowered they dared to stand up for themselves.

“Feibush fails to understand that there is a movement behind these workers, the entire Philadelphia labor movement and our Joint Board as part of that larger whole, and this movement has a long memory.

“We will be mobilizing a broad coalition of labor and community allies to make clear to Ori Feibush that the price of union-busting in Philly will cost him more than a few cafes.”

Alabiso emphasized “how helpful Local 80 has been with us looking for work and applying for benefits and unemployment and also continuing our fight.”  There has been an incredible outpouring of support from everyone and it has been really healthy in a time that could have been really hard.”

The strategy of closing down shop in response to unionization efforts will not stop workers throughout the industry from fighting for fair treatment. Philadelphia coffee workers will continue to organize and fight out of love and respect for one another until they are treated with dignity and paid what their labor is worth, regardless of where they work.

Donate to the OCF workers’ GOFUNDME and sign their petition demanding severance.

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Yael Glassman
Yael Glassman

Yael Glassman is an activist writing from Philadelphia.