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Employees at Second Best Coffee in Kansas City quit en masse, alleging a toxic work environment

A coffee shop in a strip mall has a graphic on the window of an eagle holding a cup of coffee. The sign reads "Second Best Coffee"
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Second Best Coffee opened in Waldo in 2014. Former employees allege that in the past two years, the workplace has gotten worse.

All of the workers, except for the general manager, quit Thursday. They say they had no other choice but to leave Second Best after multiple conversations with ownership and management went unaddressed.

When patrons arrived at Second Best Coffee in Waldo Thursday morning, they were greeted with a sign announcing a mass employee resignation instead of an espresso. The sign on the door alleged “an escalation of toxic behavior” at the coffee shop — a once-enjoyable job that workers say diminished into a hostile working environment.

Later on in the day, the sign was replaced with one that read “Closed for staff issues.” Ownership at Second Best Coffee did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Of the 10 employees at the coffee shop, all but the general manager quit. They say the workplace has gotten worse in the past two years — the longest any of them have worked with the company. The former employees wrote in their statement that "this situation has arisen as a result of behaviors that have gone unchecked and our voices disregarded" but did not provide additional detail on the circumstances that led them to quit.

The group has started an Instagram page, Formerly; Baristas, where they shared the statement posted on the door and plan to provide more information as time progresses.

“This was not a move that we took without a lot of thought and consideration,” the workers said in a statement to KCUR. “We felt we exhausted all other options but to walk. We didn’t want this and we did not expect everything that has happened.”

A receipt is taped to the door with writing that says "Closed for Staff Issues"
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
The original paper the former employees of Second Best Coffee taped to the door alleged an "escalation of toxic behavior" and a hostile workplace. Later in the morning, it was replaced with this one.

The workers say they had “countless” conversations with upper management and ownership about the problems they were facing, but said they were ultimately not addressed. The group specifically asked for an accountability system for upper management and ownership, for which there was none.

“The experience of employees was that our concerns were not taken seriously and that we were made to feel unsupported and think things were changing for the better. There was a very high standard for employees and no standard or accountability — job or behavior — or structure for upper management and ownership.”

So far, the workers say there’s been no response from ownership to their mass resignation.

The group, which spoke to KCUR as a collective, said they want to set an example for workers to organize and advocate for themselves. They say everything has escalated really quickly, but they will share their personal stories after they’ve had time to process the situation.

“As employees, our voices are powerful, especially if our voices are unified,” they said. “We are not asking for hate, we are not trying to ‘cancel’ anyone, we simply are ‘pro-us,’ not ‘anti-them.’”

The collective is currently working to find employment and is bracing to deal with the sudden loss of income. While they told KCUR they were not all financially prepared to quit, they said their actions show how desperate they were to get out of a bad situation. They’ve started a GoFundMeto help with expenses in the meantime. So far, they’ve raised nearly $800 of their $8,000 goal.

“We want to continue serving our community and taking care of one another and make sure that we all find ourselves in healthy work environments. Our hope is to heal from what we have gone through as individuals and continue to do what we love in making coffee for the Kansas City community.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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