Fired Ozzie’s barista gets out-of-court settlement in ‘union’ flap

Fired Ozzie’s barista gets out-of-court settlement in ‘union’ flap
Photo by Alex Rush

A former barista who sued Ozzie’s coffeehouse, alleging that store owners fired him for trying to unionize, won a $15,500 out-of-court settlement from the Park Slope java joint last month.

“I’m happy that this is all behind me,” said Jeff Bauer, whose suit was backed by the National Labor Relations Board. “I can move on knowing that at least one boss will think twice before interfering with a worker’s right to organize.”

The dough covers the wages and tips that Bauer claims he lost since being canned last year. Ozzie’s, which has two locations in Park Slope, is also required to display a notice for 60 days saying that it will not discriminate against employees for participating in union activities.

“[Ozzie’s] will not discharge, issue warnings to, reduce the work hours of, or otherwise discriminate against, any employee for engaging in activities on behalf of Industrial Workers of the World, or any other labor organizations, or for engaging in protected concerted activities,” reads the notice.

But co-owner Melissa Azulai said that she settled with Bauer because it was less expensive than bringing the case in front of an administrative law judge. And she maintained that Bauer was sacked for poor performance — not for organizing.

“We got a lot of complaints from customers about Jeff’s service,” said Azulai. “His firing had absolutely nothing to do with him being part of a union.”

As such, the settlement does not get Bauer what he claims he really wanted: his old job back.

“Absolutely not,” said Azulai. “We don’t want him back.”

Luckily for Bauer, he landed a unionized job as a janitor at the College of Staten Island.

Bauer worked at the Seventh Avenue Ozzie’s location for a year. He said that his problems started when he yapped to customers about witnessing a hostile confrontation between a co-worker and his manager’s boyfriend.

“I was so distraught by the argument because it looked like it was going to turn violent,” Bauer said. “Later, customers asked me why I looked upset so I told them what happened.”

Bauer thinks that the manager, Raphael Bernadine, got wind of his gossiping and took revenge by cutting his full-time hours in half.

So Bauer called the International Workers of the World, a century-old union with its roots in the 1920s, to demand that Bernadine restore his slashed hours.

Instead, Bauer was fired.

And that’s where the stories diverge. Bauer believes he was sacked because he sought union protection — which would be a violation of a 1935 federal law that prohibits businesses from firing an employee for union activity.

But Ozzie’s owners say that Bauer’s charges were severely overcaffeinated.

Indeed, Azulai’s termination letter to Bauer made no mention of his union activities, citing only “poor performance” and “customer complaints” as the reasons for the sacking.

Last summer, supporters and union activists rallied for Jeff Bauer, a former barista at Ozzie’s coffee bar in Park Slope, which fired him. He just won an out-of-court settlement.
Community Newspaper Group / Steven Goodstein