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Blue Bottle Draws Criticism for Yanking Part-Time Employee Benefits

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Despite a recent $45 million round of funding, 19 employees will see benefits cut.

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The cultishly beloved Blue Bottle Coffee Co., the roaster boasting major expansion plans following a recent $25 million fundraising round, is raising eyebrows this holiday season thanks to a recent new policy. Valleywag reports Blue Bottle — which has a total of $45 million in its war chest, including its most recent funding round — has announced it will no longer offer health benefits to part-time employees, effective January 2015. A Blue Bottle spokesperson tells the tech blog that the cuts are a necessary measure to help fund two positive changes to its benefits plan: Dependent health coverage and retirement benefits.

In a blog post defending the change, Blue Bottle writes the part-time plan change only affects 19 employees, or "six percent" of its overall workforce. It also notes that "if any employee wants to increase his/her hours to qualify (i.e. work more than 28), we're making accommodations among different cafes, and with retail managers, to find a place for them to pick up an extra shift or two." But many commenters at Valleywag point out that the company's deep funds should be able to handle health care for the 19 part-time employees affected. As one suggests of Blue Bottle's investors: "Part of the reason those 'other people' invested in the company is its ethos, including how it treats its employees."

In recent months, the Oakland-based Blue Bottle has acquired rival roasters in Los Angeles, including Handsome Coffee and subscription service Tonx, and also launched a line of ready-to-drink iced coffee cartons. The specialty roaster is also planning an expansion to Japan, with a Tokyo cafe — its first outside the country — opening in the coming months. Blue Bottle claims that thanks to benefits increases for dependents and retirement, "We're actually projecting to spend close to 50 percent more on employee benefits in 2015 than we did in 2014."

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