Five baristas who were employed at the headquarters for Slack, the instant messaging platform, said they were terminated last week, after their contracting agency told them to stay away from the company’s downtown San Francisco office for fear of the spread of the coronavirus. But the workers, who were not directly employed by Slack, will now receive three months of pay and an opportunity for full time employment after they raised concerns with Slack’s leadership.
On Friday, March 6, the five workers were told by contracting agency Premier Talent Partners that their contracts to work as baristas at Slack’s San Francisco office would be terminated March 27. Slack’s office has been closed as of March 6 due to fears of the spread of the coronavirus, which as of Thursday had infected 1,323 people in the United States.
Today, those workers won a concession from Slack’s leadership, which agreed to provide continued access to health care, and guaranteed wages through for an additional 90 days, through June 28.
“If anything good comes out of this, people in the same situation as me — not the only ones in this situation — can realize they can stand up and say something,” said Carly McCarthy, a barista who had worked at Slack for 13 months.
The workers also offered guaranteed wages until the launch of a new Slack program, which would offer all of the baristas full time employment through a vendor. The program doesn't have a firm launch date yet, but all baristas were offered a slot.
"On February 27, we notified the contractor agency that employs baristas working at Slack’s San Francisco office that we were confirming the previously scheduled end dates for five baristas," a spokesperson for Slack told BuzzFeed News. "This pre-set end date was in no way related to COVID-19; our remote work contingency plans were not scheduled or implemented until March 7."
"In the period since February 27, however, the environment has changed dramatically as a result of COVID-19," the spokesperson added. "When Stewart Butterfield, Slack’s Chief Executive Officer, was briefed on the situation, he asked us to do two things: First, to accelerate the launch of our vendor management program and to give all of these contractors the opportunity for full-time employment through that program at its launch; and Second, to give all of the baristas the opportunity for full time employment at the launch of our vendor management program and guarantee wages and access to healthcare until that time. We deeply value the contributions of our contractors, and we want to ensure that they are treated well. While Slack has moved to remote operations as of March 7, we are committed to continue paying all contractors as per normal schedules. We recognize this is a difficult time, and want to protect their health without risking their livelihood."
Premier Talent Partners did not return a request for comment.
McCarthy told BuzzFeed News that she was worried that she had developed symptoms similar to those of the disease. “I’m sick,” she said. “There’s a chance I have it.”
On Thursday, the baristas sent an open letter to Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield. “We don’t know if you know us but we’ve been making your coffee for the past few years. We come in before everyone else in the morning, smiles on our faces, and work hard to make sure everyone at Slack has quality coffee, excellent service, and genuine connections every day,” it read in part.
The letter went on to say, “All five of our jobs, our livelihood, health care, salaries and sense of security are ending at a time when applying for jobs in the service industry will be next to impossible, with mass layoffs across the country due to the rapid spread of the virus.”
Slack employees also set up a GoFundMe to raise money to support the workers, which as of Thursday had raised $15,380 for the baristas.
This article was updated to reflect that workers were also offered guaranteed wages until the launch of a new vendor-managed Slack program.