Employees at downtown Fresno’s very own Fulton Street Coffee have declared an indefinite strike due to disputes between the workers and owners of the cafe.
The strike began in mid-December and is still in effect as of today. The employees have been communicating strike details and updates to their customer base primarily on Instagram, where they have gained over 1,200 followers in less than 4 months since the page’s first post on Oct. 25, 2023.
Found on Instagram at @better.coop, the workers shared an open letter to dearly loved Fulton Street Coffee customers, outlining the love the workers have for the Fresno community and their reasons for initiating a worker’s strike.
The original Instagram post stated, “Tomorrow [Dec. 19 2023] you will know that the cafe is closed. Here is why…” and started by outlining the recurring issues between the current employees and one of the owners, Omar Octavio Vargas.
Described in their post as a “serial entrepreneur,” Vargas stepped down from cafe operations in May due to concerns raised by employees about his involvement with “multiple other businesses creating a clear conflict of interest and limiting [their] growth… and thus [their] careers.”
The issue was thought to be resolved when Vargas’ partners took over, but it reportedly didn’t last long, as the Instagram post described this period of time as a “honeymoon phase,” before eventually things returned to “business as usual.”
Damon Schopen, a current employee for Fulton Street Coffee and one of the five employees currently on strike, stated that while workers don’t wish to comment on law violations at this time, workers had to deal with two main safety concerns while working there, including being exposed to prolonged exposure to temperatures over 100 degrees and “electrical and tripping hazards that owners have failed to address.”
When asked about any hesitancy or concerns about striking as a very small collective, Schopen said, “The major concern we had was that the public would not be on our side. We no longer have that concern and firmly believe that we can have our needs met and will have the support necessary to make this strike successful.”
Schopen also expressed that the employees plan to remain on strike, and are willing to return to work for Fulton Street Coffee once “[the workers] know [they] will be returning to a safe work environment for [themselves] and all future employees.”
The following demands were posted on Dec. 18 in a letter to the community:
- Restoration to our previous POS tip options
- Resolution of various hazards in the cafe
- An agreement to close one day of the week or hire additional staff to allow all staff to have at least two days a week off
- Clear guidelines for effective communication
- Repairs to the cafe as demanded by the Public Health Department to ensure the continuity of operation.
For several months leading up to the strike, employees at Fulton Street Coffee expressed that they had been in communication with owners regarding the possibility of some of the current employees becoming partners, or converting the current business model into a “worker-owned cooperative” as a means of resolving the disagreements.
When asked what this might look like for the employees and the future of Fulton Street Coffee, Schopen commented that the first step would be “incorporating the cooperative [into the current Fulton Street Coffee business model], which we are simply waiting on paperwork to do.”
As explained in an Instagram post by workers at Fulton Street Coffee, a worker-owned cooperative in this context “exists to serve the needs of workers and their customers. Workers-members are owners and employees, self-managed through democratic decision making…Revenue in excess of costs are distributed to all member’s accounts as ‘patronage’, rather than to owners as ‘profit.’”
Following the original announcement of the employees going on strike, a GoFundMe page was created with the comment that any donations made by the community go towards making sure that the workers are able to support themselves during this time.
Currently, over $6,000 has been fundraised, and any additional funds after the employees cost of living is taken care of will go towards “equipment and start-up costs for our coffee cooperative.”
As of Jan. 13, 2024, owners are keeping Fulton Street Coffee running without the striking employees, while the workers on strike have created their own brand of coffee to be distributed within the community to raise funds and awareness about the ongoing issue.
“Better Coffee,” the product of their worker owned cooperative, is available on their instagram page and at coffee sale pop-ups across Fresno.