Austin: JuiceLand Owners Threaten Legal Action Against Striking Workers

Photo: Juiceland Workers holding a group discussion (Source: Tribune SC)

By Taylor Jenson, with contributions from David Martinez

On Wednesday, JuiceLand owner Matt Shook sent a cease-and-desist letter in retaliation against workers for organizing and exposing the company during a now week-long strike. Workers who shared this fact with Tribune have remained firm in the face of the retaliation and failed negotiations and continue their strike, calling for the community to join a boycott of JuiceLand in solidarity.

The strike began last Friday at a meeting to address the workers’ dissatisfaction with pay and working conditions, sparked after the company mismanaged staffing and scheduling at the production facility. The production facility is central to the business’s operations, preparing ingredients and bottling juice for the company’s 35 retail locations in Austin, Houston, and Dallas. On May 9, production workers filled a 1,300-gallon order while they were understaffed—1,000 gallons are standard for a workday. To fill the order, the company kept workers at the production facility for three hours longer than their scheduled shift.

At the meeting on May 14, JuiceLand human resources director Jen Cupid downplayed the workers’ concerns and gave unconvincing assurances that the problems would be addressed. The recent mismanagement was at the top of a long list of grievances.

Workers expressed to Tribune that, in particular, Black and Latino workers have faced racist practices from the company and have been at the forefront of the current struggle. Apart from poor wages, insufficient for Austin’s high cost of living, production workers are angered by a lack of central AC and heating, black mold and disrepair in the facility, sexual harassment in the workplace that goes unaddressed, and more.

A sign made by a worker.

The workers’ medical issues and injuries are treated negligently by ownership. After one accident on site, in which a worker lost a finger in the gears of an industrial juicing machine, executives sought ways to avoid providing the worker financial and medical assistance. A former manager shared with Tribune that while awaiting the ambulance the day of the accident, owner Matt Shook told the injured worker to “focus on your chi.”

After feigning an interest in meeting demands and negotiating in good faith over the past week, on Wednesday evening Shook sent a cease and desist letter threatening legal action for alleged defamation by worker representatives for posting workers’ stories of sexual harassment by Shook on social media.

At last week’s meeting, three production team members quit immediately in response to Cupid’s failure to address grievances, and those remaining decided to go on strike. The distribution workers who are responsible for delivering products to the retail locations also walked off, and the same night, storefront workers at multiple locations went on strike in support. Due to the strike, at least eight JuiceLand locations were closed by Sunday. As of the time of writing, at least five stores remain closed and others are operating at limited capacity.

The workers have issued a number of demands, including a base pay raise, regular pay raises as opposed to a rare merit-based pay raise, safer working conditions, the right to democratically recall managers and more. On Monday, worker representatives met with Shook and other executives at the JuiceLand headquarters to discuss these demands while workers formed a picket line outside.

A worker representative told Tribune that there was originally cause for optimism during Monday’s negotiations. Promises from the executives not to retaliate against strikers were recorded on video, and executives verbally agreed to workers being able to democratically recall their managers, however none of their demands have been met.

Negotiations further broke down when executives published a statement without the approval of the worker representatives that ownership had originally agreed to write in conjunction with workers. The workers’ Instagram page (@juicelandworkersrights) stated, “When our supposed first act moving forward together ended up being solely dictated by [the company owners], our trust was broken.”

While Shook and the rest of the executives have reneged on agreements and retaliated against workers, the workers are becoming more organized and resolute. Workers have announced their plans to continue the strike and the call to boycott, especially now that owners have cancelled a negotiation meeting originally planned for today. To support the striking workers, Tribune encourages our readers to back the boycott of JuiceLand and donate to the workers’ strike fund.

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