To: Ryan and Mina Lee of Coffee Tree/Coffee Tree & Poke

Coffee Tree: Stop Violating Basic Workers' Rights

Coffee Tree and Coffee Tree & Poke are two neighborhood cafes in Seattle under the same ownership. Lately, the company's management has been retaliating against workers asking for a paid ten minute break by redesigning the schedule into double 3.9 hr shifts to avoid giving workers the necessary break time to which we're entitled. The owners continuously acquire half of all employee earned tips for their own profit. In the past, they have also garnished wages/tips to fill store losses from cash register shortage to waste from employee mistakes. Finally, bathroom breaks have been strongly discouraged in order to curb any lost time from work, which creates serious health and safety concerns. This places immense and undue burden on the employees. I'm calling on Coffee Tree to comply with the law and ensure that our employees get the breaks that we need and our full wages and tips.

The observance of basic rights to rest breaks, bathroom breaks and protection from wage theft ensure a more positive and satisfying environment for employees. Employees must not be taken advantage of for lack of familiarity with these rights. We rely on our workplace to protect our interests so we can provide our best selves as representatives of the business. Regardless of the size and independence of a business, the employers must be held accountable to the law. Fulfilling these rights is imperative to build the respect and trust between workers and employers that is necessary to create a thriving workplace.

Why is this important?

This is a cry for workplace fairness at Coffee Tree. Employers have been utilizing intimidation tactics, shaming and manipulation, and retaliation to rob workers of their basic rights for too long, often taking advantage of employees' lack of familiarity with these work laws. Now is the time to cease these activities. Outlined below are the concerns and clear violations of workers' rights:

(Under the ES.C.6 Meal and Rest Periods - Employees are entitled to a minimum 10 minute rest break for each 4 hours worked. The rest period of time must be scheduled as near as possible to the midpoint of the four hours of working time. No employee may be required to work more than three consecutive hours without a rest period). Employers have been exploiting the loophole ("if the nature of the work involves several intermittent rest periods equal to ten minutes, a rest break is not required") to deny workers a 10, even when workers have been working continuously. It's also important to note that the ES.C.6 specifies that a series of ten 1-minute breaks is not sufficient to meet this requirement. Many of us will experience shifts where we work longer hours than we were scheduled for, work continuously, and are entitled to a ten minute break but are either not made aware of this right, or are strongly discouraged from exercising this right. The restructuring of a workers' schedule into double 3.9 hr shifts as punishment for insisting on his or her 10 minute break, while not unlawful, is cheap and abominable. This redesigning not only limits the overall breaks for an employee during an entire workday, but also results in less employee satisfaction and production. Similarly, comparative shaming as a tool to discourage one or more employees from taking rest breaks creates a negative environment where employees don’t feel valued or secure. Employers must honor the work and time of an employee as evidenced in person or in surveillance which entitle the worker to his/her paid break.

According to DOSH, restroom breaks cannot be restricted (within reason) and do not count as a paid 10 minute rest break, though employees may choose to use the bathroom on their paid break. This is a basic health and safety right. Intimidating workers by recording length of bathroom breaks and using it as negative commentary in an employee file is despicable.

Concerted activity (activity done to address health/safety concerns or to improve the workplace conditions) is protected from acts of retaliation (firing, cutting of hours, creating unnecessary write-ups, wage/tip deduction). As an employee currently suffering a suspension from positive workplace actions, I am pushing for awareness that this action is not appropriate or legal.

In the training phase, we are told that cash drawer shortages, damage to the store, or excessive waste will result in our wages or tips being garnished to fill those losses. According to the Washington State Legislature (WAC 296-126-025): The only time a workers’ income (hourly wage and tips) should be garnished is with court orders, with a personal agreement with keeping a tab in the workplace, a loan, or some other extenuating circumstance. Cash shortages in tills, and accidental waste/breakage are specifically pointed out as being unlawful reasons for wage deduction. In addition, the employers have never been held accountable and continue to seize half of worker earned tips for themselves. Under FLSA, managerial and professional positions are not eligible to take a cut of tips from tipped employees. Coffee Tree employers must observe these laws, return money unlawfully taken from employees in the past, and cease this procedure altogether.

Protecting quantifiable losses of the stores (time and money) at the expense of the businesses' most valuable commodity, the workers, is not lawful or virtuous. Let us strive not only for great coffee and customer care, but also great care of employees. Let us recognize when breaks are warranted. Let us thrive together.

How it will be delivered

In Person

Reasons for signing

  • How can any business demand so much from employees? This is cruel. Even a 10 minute break every 4 hours is horrible. Stop it Coffee Tree!
  • The owners need to be reported to the WA State Labor & Industries Dept as their actions are violating the Fair Labor Laws.
  • We must be aware and do our best to counter all acts of intentional abuse of employees such as this business is doing.


2017-09-13 17:58:58 -0400

I deeply thank you for the support you've given this cause - it has made a tremendous difference. While Coffee Tree and Poke is a small business in the ocean of Seattle commerce, your combined signatures have given gravity to the serious offenses committed against vulnerable employees. I feel satisfied and alleviated by these proceedings and strengthened by the solidarity I've experienced with the community.

2017-09-13 17:58:41 -0400

Dear friends and allies:

It's been a long year of slow-moving deliberations towards restorative justice, but I'm happy to inform you of the following updates as of today: The Seattle Office of Labor Standards has found that Ryan Lee is guilty of first degree violation of wage theft and retaliation. For two years, Ryan Lee will be required to collaborate with OLS to check for lawful employee treatment; review documentation; submit financial statements twice/year. Within six months, the owner is required to attend Management Training with the Business Liasion at OLS. Future employees will be notified of their rights through mandated labor standards posters. This agreement is approved for public disclosure.

2016-09-01 19:10:15 -0400

Three pending investigations are now active against Coffee Tree owners: LnI for Wage Theft; EEOC for Workplace Fairness Violations; and DOSH for potential health hazards. I will keep you informed!

2016-08-29 15:33:22 -0400

100 signatures reached

2016-08-29 14:32:51 -0400

50 signatures reached

2016-08-29 14:14:51 -0400

25 signatures reached

2016-08-29 14:09:56 -0400

10 signatures reached