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Employee Rally Calls Out Caribou Coffee’s COVID-19 Response


Workers stage a car rally Monday, April 27, at a Caribou Coffee location in Roseville, Minnesota.

Laura Michaels

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a new wave of employee actions. There have been protests by hospital workers over a lack of personal protective equipment and a “sick-out” by Amazon workers, along with protests and rallies in California targeting fast food brands such as McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell and Domino's. In Minnesota today, where Franchise Times is based, Caribou Coffee workers shut down the drive-thru lane of a location in protest. 

Chanting, "We're not your heroes, we're not your martyrs,” workers and organizers with the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Minnesota protested at a location in Roseville, Minnesota, demanding protective gear and paid sick leave. Workers said locations across the country have not done enough to provide gloves, sneeze guards and masks to keep the working environment safe. Lux Wildenauer, an employee at another Twin Cities Caribou Coffee location, said their workplace ran out of soap and sanitizer, too. 

“Caribou claims to be abiding by CDC guidelines—they’re not. They just started sending out masks, like, this weekend,” said Wildenauer. “I think that’s ridiculous, it’s absurd.”

They said without protective equipment being provided, employees have been responsible for their own masks and other gear. 

Protesters also called for sick leave and for essential workers to receive hazard pay. Wildenauer and other protesters called out the German conglomerate JAB (which took a majority stake in Caribou Coffee in 2012) and CEO John Butcher for not doing enough to help employees. 

“My two words to John Butcher: Do better,” said Wildenauer. “Do better for your workers."

Minneapolis-based Caribou Coffee issued a statement on the rally, saying it has made a lot of changes, but has also faced challenges in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on operations. Butcher highlighted communicating what the company is doing as a key challenge. 

“Under normal circumstances, cascading general manager to team member communication works fine, but a couple of weeks into the pandemic, we started to communicate bi-weekly and by email to all team members because employees were saying they were not hearing from us,” said Butcher in the statement. “It’s very fair for many of them to feel like they do not have the latest information—our antiquated communications methods were fragmented and simply couldn't keep pace with the rapid amount of change taking place in our business.” 

The statement also addressed protective gear. The company said it partnered with Minnesota-based Faribault Woolen Mill to provide face protection for the more than 5,000 in-store employees, but “sourcing bulk, non-medical face coverings for essential workers has been difficult and delayed for most businesses,” according to the statement. The company said it had provided information for employees to make or source their own masks until it was able to get masks for all locations. The company expected all locations to have face coverings by May 4, and some states already have masks. 

The company also addressed the protestors pay concerns, saying all essential workers will receive a 10 percent pay increase during the month of May and, “where applicable, paid time off, assistance with state and federal programs, unpaid leave, Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), emergency pay, short-term disability, access to Caribou Cares (employee assistance program), and benefit eligibility protection.” 

The protest was organized by Caribou Coffee workers and ROC United, an organizing body that pushes for higher wages and more worker protections within the restaurant industry. 

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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at




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