Quick Hit Ashlee Rezin Wednesday April 17th, 2013, 2:02pm

Workers Advocate For Living Wage At Peet's Coffee & Tea

Caribou Coffee locations across Illinois closed their doors Sunday, but many will soon be rebranded as Peet’s Coffee & Tea. Workers who stay on-board during the rebranding transition though, will be walking into a job that pays poverty wages, according to a group of workers from one Chicago branch of Peet’s.

Wages paid by Peet’s, and the limited number of available hours, forces workers into poverty, according to Joshua van Cleef, 28, a worker of more than one year at Peet’s Coffee & Tea store 403 in Chicago’s North Side neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

He said the standard shift at Peet’s is four to five hours. But to qualify for insurance and benefits employees must work a minimum of 21 hours per week. According to van Cleef, full-time retail associates get at most 25 hours per week, but average about 21 hours.

Working five days or more a week to qualify for insurance and benefits has prevented most Peet’s employees from getting second jobs, he said.

Therefore, according to van Cleef, workers depend solely on the average wage of $9 per hour, at an average of 21 hours a week, in order to qualify for insurance coverage. That translates to an income of $9,828 per year before taxes, which is just below the poverty level.

“Not only is it unjust to not pay a living wage, but these practices are borderline unethical,” he said, adding that the company’s yearly raise of 18 cents doesn’t meet inflation. He also says workers are denied paid sick days.

Joh. A. Benckiser, a German investment company that owns California-based Peet’s Coffee & Tea, purchased Minneapolis-based Caribou Coffee, the Midwest and Great Plaines alternative to Starbucks, in December for $340 million.

The company announced plans earlier this month to close 80 “underperforming” Caribou locations nationwide and turn 88 others into Peet’s over the next 12 to 18 months.

Most workers of stores slated for closure were given nine days notice.

Of Illinois’ 66 Caribou Coffee branches, it remains unclear exactly how many locations will be rebranded as Peet's. Although it has been reported that 14 branches in Chicago, as well as one in Wheaton and one in Glen Ellyn will eventually be transitioned into Peet’s. Two Caribou chains in Chicago as well as stores in Arlington Heights, Glenview, Rolling Meadows, Vernon Hills, Libertyville, Hoffman Estates and Schaumburg were shuttered. One employee estimated that 1,000 workers in the area lost their jobs, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Caribou’s 610 locations nationwide will be reduced to 486 by 2015, with none remaining in the Land of Lincoln.

There has been no word whether Caribou employees will retain their jobs during the rebranding.

“While the decisions we’ve made have been difficult for our team in Minneapolis, as well as our team members across the country and our guests and fans everywhere, we are working to make this transition as seamless as possible for the Caribou community,” Caribou President Mike Tattersfield said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to deliver extraordinary experiences to our guests and fans, and thank everyone for their passion and commitment to Caribou.”

But Joanna Rudenborg, 34, an employee of a Peet’s Coffee & Tea location in Chicago said the high-end coffee shop’s take over is purely profit-driven and would be perpetuating poverty jobs in the Windy City.

“By a combination of the low wages and the few hours available through their strict scheduling practices, Peet’s retail associates have a hard time making enough to even pay rent,” she said, noting she makes $9.33 per hour.

Workers at the Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood organized last year to fight for living wages, paid sick days and guaranteed hours. They sent a petition to corporate offices on September 3 and hosted a protest on September 18 outside of a “closed door” meeting in their branch. Calling themselves Peet’s Workers Group, the group has no union affiliation, but has drawn the attention of the company's executives.

Peet’s Workers Group has received support from the coffee shop’s employees in Berkeley, Seattle and Boston. Nationwide, the movement is being called Unite Peet’s.

Friday, van Cleef, who makes $9.15 per hour, was on an hourlong conference call with Peet’s CEO David Burwick and asked him to justify paying workers “poverty wages.”

“The main things we talked about were four-hour shifts, raises not meeting inflation, and living wages,” van Cleef said. “He said he’s new to the job, but I’m very hopeful.”

Having been appointed CEO in November, Burwick didn’t have any concrete conclusions for van Cleef, but said he was “looking into it.” Van Cleef said the executive was very candid and generous with his time.

“Peet’s Coffee & Tea provides competitive pay and industry-leading healthcare coverage to eligible part-time and full-time employees,” a spokesperson from Peet’s Coffee & Tea told Progress Illinois in a statement. “Peet’s has an open door policy and strongly believes in open dialogue with employees. All individual conversations between employees and management during these ‘open door meetings’ are private.”

But van Cleef said all workers should voice their concerns to management.

“Companies need to hear the majority voice, and even though it’s often choked out by union busting or bureaucracy, workers need to come together and fight for better wages,” he said.

Burwick told van Cleef to follow up regarding his decisions. Van Cleef said he plans to call the human resources department this week.

“I think it’s very possible to raise wages, I’m hopeful Burwick heard me and I think, although changes may not be made right away, I think they can be made if we keep working,” said van Cleef.

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