Updated, 7:35 p.m.
On Saturday, Amazing Yoga’s vegan cafe in the South Side was open for business.
On Sunday, it was closed, as employees went on strike over what they called increasingly poor working conditions.
On Monday, when they expected to return to their jobs, the workers found the locks had been changed after receiving an email from management late Sunday that stated: “Hello, The cafe is closed indefinitely. Thank you, Amazing Cafe Management.”
“We just want to have a conversation,” Zach Reyes, who worked at the cafe for more than two years, told The Incline. Reyes said he had been working seven days a week for two months as the number of staff dwindled. He alleged that some employees were fired without cause, as the added responsibility was put on workers who had been hired to work part-time. Just four people worked during Saturday’s brunch service, he said, which created both “a safety and health hazard.” There was also a disparity in wages: Reyes said he was making $14 an hour, while employees who were doing as much or more work were paid $9 an hour.
None of the issues Reyes and other employees raised were addressed by management, he said.
As of Tuesday morning, a sign on the door stated, “We are closed. Sorry for the inconvenience.” The cafe’s Facebook page is gone, as is its Instagram account. That account was still active as of Tuesday afternoon, and comments on a post about Sunday’s closure were turned off.
No one answered the phone at Amazing Yoga’s South Side location or cafe Monday or Tuesday. Emails from The Incline to management went unreturned.
But co-owner Sean Conley did respond to Pittsburgh City Paper and said in a statement the cafe was closing for financial reasons:
“We loved serving the community,” wrote Conley. “Despite what was reported to the City Paper by a former employee, we had great relationships with our staff. Unfortunately, the cafe has not performed well enough financially. The cafe is now closed permanently. We will miss being a part of the community and we would like to thank all of [the] customers that have been so supportive.”
Reyes and three other employees’ names were signed to a letter posted at Amazing Cafe this weekend regarding the strike:
We, the undersigned, are members of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and are writing to notify you of our intention to participate in a one-day strike on May 21, 2017. We will return to work on May 22, 2017 without any preconditions.
We are going on strike to address the rise in unfair working conditions and discrimination in restaurants across the country, including at Amazing Cafe.
We demand full staff, safe conditions, breaks, no harassments email or otherwise, job descriptions and checks that are owed to date.
We appreciate your efforts to create a fair work environment and ask for a meeting to discuss additional steps that can be taken to improve working conditions and protect workers who are the target of discrimination.
“We want fair treatment for the work that we do,” said Niki Catino, an employee who signed the letter. Jake Reder, who also signed the letter, said he and other employees are vegetarians or vegans who believed in Amazing Cafe’s mission.
“We represent the ideals of that restaurant better than the owners do,” he said.
All three stressed that they wanted to speak to management about their issues, which is why they went on strike.
“We’re sacrificing our source of income that we need to live,” Catino said. Reyes added that they went public with their issues to prevent this happening to other people should Amazing Yoga open another cafe.
Jordan Romanus, an organizer with Pittsburgh’s ROC United office, said the nonprofit is “providing legal and community support to the striking workers.”
“Whether it’s one fair wage, sexual harassment, or unfair working conditions like the case of the employees at Amazing Cafe, we stand fully in support of our restaurant workforce exercising their legal rights for a more fair and equitable workplace,” he said by email. “We will continue to stand with the employees for however long it takes until justice is served.”
Romanus said demonstrations are in the works and the employees are exploring their legal options. Instead of working at the cafe Monday, Catino, Reder and Reyes were applying for unemployment.
This post has been updated with a statement from Amazing Cafe’s co-owner Sean Conley and with new information about Reyes’ wage.