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Local labor unions making Spot Coffee a grande issue

A hassle about firing employees of Spot Coffee trying to organize a union for the coffee shops is turning into a major stand for the local labor movement.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

When Spot fired some employees who were organizing a union among the workers, it ignited an uproar across the crowd of coffee shoppers and gave organized labor a chance to work with an audience not usually present at these labor organization struggles. That showed Monday outside the Spot shop at Delaware  Avenue and Chippewa Street in downtown Buffalo.

While some of the people in attendance at the rally were traditional union people from old-line labor organizations, many were millennials apparently angry that Spot management had summarily fired workers, including a Williamsville manager, for organizing.

Byrne Kolega said customers miss former Williamsville Spot Manager Lukas Weinstein.

Credit MIke Desmond / WBFO News

"Lukas' absence has affected not only the co-workers, but the community as well," said Kolega. "We've had our customers, especially regulars, take it upon themselves to voluntarily boycott the company and even write letters to the company telling them they disagree with their decision."

The rally took place right outside the corporate officers upstairs from the prominent location. Many of the speaker comments were aimed at Spot COO Dan Hensley, whose office is on the second floor, but there was no company comment Monday.

Cory Johnson was there from Spot's Rochester outpost, where a union contract is being bargained.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"The company didn't really fight us the way they are here in Buffalo. Nobody got fired in Rochester," Johnson said, "and that's important to recognize, is that when an employer fires workers who want a union or who are having a discussion about organizing a union, it's not simply to get rid of those workers. It's to intimidate every other worker that they worked with to persuade them to not join the union."

On the hot and steamy day, the crowd waved supporting signs and signs attacking Spot for its claimed treatment of the workers. Traditional labor leaders brought in organizers who had recently reached a contract agreement with Wendt in Cheektowaga after a long standoff over a worker vote to unionize - like Jim Wagner from the Ironworkers. Wagner said he was there to tell Spot workers the labor movement has their backs.

"This fight is about solidarity and solidarity gives us the power, the credibility to force and enact change and that's what this fight right here is about," Wagner said, "and the solidarity begins today and carries on tomorow and forever never ends."

The company had no comment about the rally.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.