San Francisco

Popular Boba Shop in SF Closed Amid ‘Union-Busting' Controversy

NBC Universal, Inc.

A popular bubble tea shop in San Francisco's Mission District has been closed for more than a week.

The employees at Boba Guys, on 19th and Mission, claim it’s because everyone has either been suspended or fired because they want to organize a union.

Now, they’re raising concerns about employee privacy, claiming their conversations may have been recorded.

“None of us wanted to leave immediately if there was some hope here,” said Madeline Urso, former Boba Guys employee. 

Urso and Ashley Osorio Paredes are among several employees who said they are deteriorating relations with the leaders of the company.

“I feel like if he would have just listened to us, none of this would have happened,” said Osorio Paredes, who was suspended. 

During this summer's heatwave, they raised concerns about working without air conditioning.

Just a couple weeks ago, they raised concerns about work hours being cut back.

That's when they said grumblings about forming a union started, and last Monday, Urso posted information about unions on a work communications thread.  

“They wanted to shut it down as soon as possible,” said Urso.

The next day, she was fired. 

In response, her coworker posted signs in the store window accusing Boba Guys’ leadership of union-busting. 

Shortly after that, San Francisco police were called by managers and Urso said all the rest of the store's employees were suspended without pay.

Urso also claims she and other employees have now learned their managers may have been recording their work conversations.

She showed a hand-written note on her termination letter that read in part, “Madeline's comments listed here, along with other commentary documented in video are in direct violation of boba guys code of ethics."

That has raised privacy concerns among the employees and could raise legal concerns.

“We knew that there was video taping, but we never knew that there was audio recording,” said Osorio Paredes. “And none of us ever signed a waiver that there was audio recording.”

In a lengthy statement, Boba Guys co-founder Bin Chen denies allegations that the company was union-busting or regularly monitoring employee conversations.

"Boba Guys cannot comment on specific employee personnel matters. However, the company categorically denies having ever engaged in employee discipline connected to labor organizing. Our Mission store was temporarily closed for security reasons, and its reopening is yet to be determined. The security cameras are in our stores for emergencies. At no time has the company made it a practice to watch and listen to day-to-day activities. The reason any footage was reviewed at the Mission store was due to a cash shortfall at the end of the day. At that time, we observed inappropriate conduct for which we took corrective action. At no time was this ever a labor organizing issue. This is the extent of our statement at this time."

They also say they're closed due to a security issue.

Urso disputes that and said she's seeking legal guidance about what to do next.

“What rights do we have? What rights were violated? What is just like, scummy unethical behavior versus, illegal, you know?” she said.

Meanwhile, the Boba Guys flagship store in the Mission remains closed and there's no word on when it will re-open.

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