Tensions have been brewing (sorry) at locally founded Philz Coffee for several months both due to pandemic concerns and what workers claim are unsafe practices inside the companies' coffeeshops. And now the company has announced its first round of layoffs.

Citing the uncertainty around how long the pandemic will impact the economy, Philz sent an unsigned notice to workers on Friday informing them that the layoffs would be occurring this Wednesday, July 15. "This year has been filled with difficult decisions," the email reads, "but this is one of the most difficult."

One impacted worker told Brokeass Stuart that they were among those impacted by the layoff, and also part of a group of employees who was already on furlough due to health vulnerabilities. "While Philz has reopened its locations on a limited pick-up only model, employees with significant risk factors such as disabilities or caring for a weak relative remained on furlough and these are the people being unceremoniously dropped," the tipster said.

The company has not confirmed which locations or categories of employees are being impacted, and Philz now has 59 locations across California, Illinois, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. A total of 181 workers are reportedly part of this layoff.

As KQED reports, more than 100 Philz workers had been organizing to protest what they said were unsafe business practices in recent months. The workers said that employees at a San Francisco location had been diagnosed COVID-positive, and yet the location had remained open. Also, citing advice from One Medical, the workers say the company had put multiple people back on shifts working side by side, in masks — though this is something occurring at every food and beverage business that has opened statewide.

As one laid off worker, Rowan Allen, tells KQED, "Philz has tried to maintain maximum productivity while sacrificing safety."

Philz CEO Jacob Jaber, the son of founder Phil Jaber, pushed back on these characterizations, saying the company had more than ample personal protective equipment for employees. But the company would not confirm how many employees have turned up infected.

Further tensions arose after the company posted the following message in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in early June.

Employees were quick to point to a ten-year-old policy at Philz of giving 20-percent discounts to police officers, along with firefighters and other first responders, as evidence of hypocrisy. The company has since announced that all these discounts will end in August.

Posters that have appeared on utility poles in San Francisco say, "Philz Coffee employees in Costa Mesa and San Francisco were fired July 2 and July 3 after expressing their views against police brutality and murder of Black folk."

Jaber rejects that, and says that all of the layoffs were difficult to make, and purely to do with the economics of the pandemic. "Unfortunately, I can’t go into details from a confidentiality standpoint, but this is a layoff including many, many, many, many people," Jaber tells KQED. "It was one of the hardest decisions we had to make."

Laid off San Francisco barista Maiya McQueen tells KQED that she was "blatantly disrespected [and] disregarded" after multiple emails and meetings with management about "holding the company accountable for being anti-Black since their first statement about Black Lives Matter went up."

Jaber has said that the Philz company will create an "equality and inclusion committee" to address employees' concerns.

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