Food by VICE

Months After Workers Unionize, Mighty Good Coffee Will Close Its Cafes

The company said the cafes will close due to "personal family issues," but its non-union roastery remains open.

by Tom Perkins
Apr 22 2019, 9:30pm

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Several months after Mighty Good Coffee’s baristas unionized, and the company settled with a former employee over racial discrimination accusations, the Ann Arbor, MI company is closing down its four cafes.

The union learned of the decision early last week in a letter sent from the company’s attorney, Timothy Ryan, who works for Jackson Lewis, a firm that specializes in thwarting union organization.

‘[Owners] Nic [Sims] and David have concluded that they are not well suited to operate a retail operation,” Ryan wrote in the letter. “They have found the experience to be overly stressful. It has created an unworkable burden on their relationship and their family.”

It’s unclear how much of the decision is related to the discrimination allegations, and some union members told mLive that they suspect Mighty Good is attempting to kill the union. That’s partly because Mighty Good’s wholesale coffee roasting component—which doesn’t have union employees—will continue to operate. The company’s largest cafe closed late last week, and the others will shutter in the coming months.

Owner Sims provided MUNCHIES with this statement: “Mighty Good Coffee has decided to close its Cafes. The owners of MGC have been experiencing personal family issues which have led them to this decision. They feel they cannot devote the time and energy required to operate four cafes while they address these issues. Simply put, they are prioritizing their family. MGC is very concerned about the effect this decision may have on the people who work in the cafes. MGC is working with the union on a plan to offer assistance to the employees as they transition to other employment.”

In the meantime, the future of the 15 Washtenaw Area Coffee Workers Association baristas is unclear. They will receive a severance package, though union organizer Ian Wilkinson declined to say what was included because of a non-disclosure agreement.

Wilkinson says the union members are a bit scattered and trying to regroup at the moment, but there’s some initial discussion of forming a worker-owned cooperative cafe.

“A lot of people have been supportive of the idea, and we would turn it into a pro-labor space to try to continue helping improve labor standards in the service industry,” he said.

Wilkinson says they’re also applying at other cafes in the meantime, though it’s possible that they’ll be blacklisted from other Ann Arbor coffee shops. Nya Njee, a black woman who accused the company of racial discrimination, previously told MUNCHIES that she couldn’t find another Ann Arbor coffee shop willing to hire her, and she eventually left the area to work in Detroit.

Njee started working at a Mighty Good cafe in August 2016, but hadn’t received a raise two years later—despite two strong performance reviews, a new title, and more responsibility. Meanwhile, white baristas who Njee trained and had less experience received raises and promotions. After Njee asked Sims for a raise and Sims refused, Njee quit, brought attention to the situation with viral social media posts, and hired an attorney. The two sides settled in December before a lawsuit was filed, and the settlement included a non-disclosure agreement that prevented Njee from discussing the case.