Petition claims alleged employee mistreatment at The Java House in IC

The petition, started by the Eastern Iowa Industrial Workers of the World, alleges that the coffee shop refuses to raise employee wages back to pre-pandemic standards.


Becca Ball

The Java House is seen on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021.

Cooper Worth, News Reporter

Java House, a locally owned Iowa City coffee franchise, is facing backlash after employees started a petition earlier this month claiming that management of the coffee shop refuses to return workers’ wages to pre-pandemic levels.

The petition was started by the Eastern Iowa Industrial Workers of the World, a democratically-run labor union, and reached nearly 700 signatures before being locked last Friday.

The petition alleges that Java House owners decreased wages from $10.10 to $8.75 as a result of the financial strain caused by the pandemic.

COVID-19 restrictions in Iowa City eased as the pandemic evolved, and workers said they have noticed a steady increase in customers in recent months. The petition alleges that upper management has declined employee requests to return wages to $10.10.

The current suggested minimum wage in Johnson County is $10.75.

Nolan Hanson, a third-year student at the University of Iowa and founder of Hawks’ Union— a group of student activists focused on building a united group for student interests at the University of Iowa — said members of the organization were wary of  Java House prior to this development.

“Hawks’ Union has heard many claims of a hostile work environment and large amounts of wage theft,” he said. “Many former student employees have left Java House over these reasons and have given very similar stories to others, demonstrating that these are not isolated cases. They are claims to be taken seriously.”

A current Java House employee wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that they and other employees value their jobs. The employee supports the petition, they said. The DI chose to grant the worker anonymity because of the potential consequences of speaking about their support for the petition.

“I enjoy the job, the work environment is great, and coworkers and assistant managers are always doing what they can to keep spirits up,” the employee wrote. “The people that care about this establishment have to do what we can to make sure the job we enjoy pays us fairly.”

Director of Java House Company Operations Paul Cork provided the DI with an emailed statement on from the Java House management team. The statement said the petition does not accurately reflect its compensation system but did not deny that the wage had been lowered. The statement said the cafe believes its team members and “all workers have a right to be heard.”

“We periodically change our compensation approach for different levels of positions, but with the focus of always empowering worker agency by encouraging our team to increase their compensation by participating in learning opportunities and skill development,” the statement said.

The Java House employee wrote that the workers are being straightforward in their demands.

“We have two simple demands: wage increase and tip security,” they wrote. “Workers at The Java House shouldn’t have to pull out a calculator every time they get a check to see if there’s anything missing in it.”

The employee wrote that the public can support the cafe’s workers by tipping the baristas in cash, especially newer employees.  Workers have also alleged that digital tips have not gone to the correct employees as well.

“Digital tips have been taken before due to the nature of upper management decisions on who gets them,” they wrote. “The new trainee that you see on the register is most likely not getting any digital tips, so the physical tips go straight to the worker.”

Hanson said his organization is encouraging Java employees to collaborate to work out the issue.

“Our advice for Java House workers, and workers at any establishment, is to talk to each other about their workplace problems,” he said. “Only once everyone gets all their workplace troubles on the table do we truly know the whole nature of the workplace environment.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify the statement provided to the DI by Java House management was on behalf of Java House as a whole.