All OCF Coffee House locations have shut down, a week after workers moved to unionize

All OCF Coffee House locations have shut down, a week after workers moved to unionize

All OCF Coffee House locations have shut down, a week after workers moved to unionize

Real estate developer Ori Feibush announced the immediate closure of his three OCF Coffee House locations on Monday, a week after OCF workers informed him of their intent to unionize.

Feibush, who met with available staff in person Monday afternoon, called the shutdown a difficult decision, citing rising costs, reduced sales, and the expiration of leases for a business that he said was never profitable during its 13 years.

”But we pushed forward because we understood the positive impact we were making in our communities and the importance to maintain a level of compensation and benefits … that you each deserved,” he wrote in an email announcing the decision to staff who did not attend Monday’s meetings. Combined with financial and logistical headwinds, however, “the administrative and legal costs associated with your desire to organize has regrettably moved us beyond any cost that we could sustain,” he wrote.

Feibush said about 45 people worked at OCF’s coffee shops — two in South Philadelphia and one in Fairmount. He said that the company would provide workers health, vision, and dental benefits for three months, and that some would receive severance. Feibush said workers had received $20 to $25 an hour in salary and tips, plus benefits.

Twenty-three OCF workers presented Feibush a letter on June 3 asking for voluntary recognition of their union. They went public with their organizing campaign on social media the same day, announcing their intent to join Local 80, the barista union that represents workers at several Philadelphia cafés, including Elixr, ReAnimator, two Ultimo shops, and all three Philadelphia locations of Bluestone Lane (where workers voted unanimously to unionize in May). They formally filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board for a union vote on June 5.

Reached Monday night, OCF Fairmount baristas Alex Simpson and Ava Alabiso said they were still reeling from the announcement of the abrupt closures, which they learned of via email. “This does feel like retaliation,” said Alabiso, who was also an assistant manager. “It’s all just so incredibly sudden. We’re all just in the lurch trying to figure out what to do.”

Simpson said the workers involved in OCF’s union campaign had considered this potential outcome but had not thought it was likely.

“There was some talk of shutting down but we genuinely believed that our connections with the community, especially in Fairmount, are so strong that he wouldn’t do it — we’re where people get their drinks and their lunch and have meetings every single day,” Simpson said. “I just think it’s really reflective of how little Ori actually cares about the community to shut down these locations.”

Alex Riccio, a Local 80 spokesperson and the organizing coordinator of the Philadelphia Joint Board (PJB) of Workers United, shared a statement on behalf of PJB Workers United, of which Local 80 is an affiliate.

“OCF workers took a courageous stand against a bully boss. … That same bully boss chose to shutter his operations, without even the grace of advance notice,” Riccio said.

On Tuesday, workers protested outside of the now-shuttered Fairmount shop, where a “sip-in” had previously been planned. “There is a movement behind these workers,” Riccio said, “and this movement has a long memory.”

Mounting costs

Reached by phone Monday, Feibush said OCF’s shops had always been subsidized financially by both OCF Realty, his development company, and by Feibush personally. The cafe chain’s post-pandemic contraction from six locations to three had helped stem the losses. More changes were in the works. As the leases for stores at 20th and Federal Streets and 18th and South Streets came due this summer (while Feibush manages those properties, he does not own the buildings), he had planned to consolidate those locations to a single shop on Washington Avenue. The Fairmount Avenue shop’s lease was set to expire in a couple of years.

“We had closed our least profitable stores over the years and we were losing less money every month than we had historically,” Feibush said.

But the costs associated with responding to the union organization were “staggering beyond anything — tens of thousands of dollars in just the [last] week and a half,” he said. “It put its finger on the scale in such a profound way as it relates to the finances of the organization that it was just a strain that we couldn’t reliably overcome.”

Feibush said that he had patronized his shops every day for the last 13 years, and that he wrestled with the difficult decision to close over the last week. “This is a significant part of my personal and professional life,” he said. “I’m sad that it’s abrupt as it is, and this is certainly not the narrative or the story that I had hoped for,” he said. “This just feels like everyone’s a loser.”

After deciding to close, Feibush wanted to deliver the news in person. The Inquirer reviewed an email staff received on Friday informing them that all three shops would close early on Monday afternoon for nonmandatory (“but encouraged”) meetings with Feibush in their respective locations, and offered options for alternative times and one-on-one meetings. Feibush said only seven employees across the three stores attended the meetings, including four managers. (Feibush said he had offered some managers the chance to run any of the locations on their own — taking over the lease and operating independently.)

“I just wanted to be in front and accessible to the folks that work for me,” Feibush said. “It’s also strange to me that in every opportunity, folks didn’t want to speak, didn’t want to have a conversation.”

Union drive

Simpson and Alabiso said the 23 workers who signed onto last week’s union letter had decided to skip the meeting in advance. “We expected Ori to talk to us out of unionizing,” Simpson said. “If Ori wanted to talk about what changes could be made to the workplace, we could’ve done that with a mutually agreed-upon contract.”

Organizing efforts began at OCF in January, the baristas said. Alabiso cited verbally guaranteed raises that weren’t followed through on and discrepancies in pay and working conditions between front and back of house. For instance, Simpson said, OCF cooks and dishwashers told the organizing committee they made between $17 and $19, and no tips came their way. “We realized that we had no way to fight back besides individually when things like that were happening,” Alabiso said.

While they were both still absorbing the swift closure of OCF’s shops, Alabiso and Simpson do not see it as the end of their efforts. They both expressed gratitude for Local 80, which has organized a GoFundMe for former OCF workers. Other Local 80-affiliated baristas have reached out in solidarity.

“We have now support from labor organizations, including legal support for us, so we can continue to fight,” Alabiso said.