A barista who claims that he was fired from Ozzie’s coffeehouse because of his union affiliation is being backed by the government in his fight to get his job back.
The National Labor Relations Board, which protects workers’ rights to organize, issued a complaint against the Park Slope java joint on Dec. 15 for canning Jeff Bauer last summer.
Now Ozzie’s, which has two locations in the nabe, must either settle with Bauer out of court or face a hearing with an administrative law judge, which could get Bauer his full-time job back, plus full back pay, according to Board spokeswoman Nancy Cleeland.
There is little dispute over what started the chain of events that led to Bauer’s dismissal last year.
Bauer, who worked at the Seventh Avenue location of coffee bar for nearly a year, said that his problems started when he yapped to customers about a hostile confrontation he witnessed between a co-worker and Bernadine’s boyfriend.
“I was so distraught by the argument because I saw the boyfriend grab my co-worker’s arm and it looked like it was going to turn violent,” Bauer said. “Later, when I worked the counter, customers asked me why I looked upset so I told them what happened.”
Bauer thinks that Bernadine got wind of his gossiping and took revenge by cutting his full-time hours in half.
That’s when Bauer called upon the International Workers of the World, a century-old union with its roots in fighting for wages in the 1920s, to demand that manager Raphael 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 owner, Allon Azulai, maintains that Bauer’s charges are severely overcaffeinated. Bauer was not fired because of his union status, said Azulai, but because he failed to meet Ozzie’s customer service standards.
“I’m flabbergasted by this,” said Azulai, who claimed that in his 17 years as the owner of Ozzie’s has never seen an employee act like this. “We treat our employees well, but he was constantly complaining to customers and other employees. Customers didn’t like it, and it was hurting our business.”
Indeed, co-owner Melissa 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.
Bauer is still unemployed and he continues to hassle Ozzie’s. The disgruntled barista held two protests in front of the shop in July and says goes back periodically to hand out fliers about his plight.
The Labor Board’s involvement was first reported by Park Slope Patch, a local website.