Maximus Coffee Workers Strike to Protest Planned Wage Cuts; Voodoo Queen Supports Strikers

It still smells like coffee outside the Maximus Coffee Group plant on Harrisburg Boulevard in the Second Ward, but there's no smoke coming from the plant's exhaust chimneys, and no trucks are driving in and out of the complex carrying Maximus coffee.

Ninety percent of the 250 unionized workers at Maximus Coffee (the bulk of the employees) are striking in response to proposed pay and 401k cuts and a more expensive health care plan.

"They're wanting to cut their wages by 40 to 50 percent for some of the folks," explains union rep Sue Mann. "They're wanting to cut their 401k by not paying into it and matching it like the agreement says they would. They want them to go off of the union insurance plan and go onto what they're calling the company plan, which is 30 percent more than what they're paying now."

The workers began striking at midnight on Thursday, and by 5 that evening, many were still out there holding signs and encouraging passersby to honk in solidarity. There was a steady chorus of honking car horns, and strikers acknowledged that they've gotten a lot of support from the neighborhood. One big supporter is new bar Voodoo Queen.

At 3 p.m. Thursday, Voodoo Queen posted a Facebook update that read:

"our homies over at the coffee plant across the street's employers are trying to hit them in the rear with zero lubricant. for that, last night they went on strike. we say damn the damn. if you work at the plant, bring your maximus badge/id in and get 2 dollar wells, 1 dollar cans and buy one, get one free poboys from open to close as long as y'all are on strike. deal void to scabs."

"It was one of our owners, Brandon Young, who came up with the idea as soon as he heard about it," explains Alex Garcia of Voodoo Queen. "A bunch of (the strikers) came up here last night, and that's where the idea kind of blossomed from."

So far, Voodoo Queen's response to the strike has garnered a lot of approval on Facebook from striking workers and Facebook followers alike. When we stopped by the bar to check it out, business was slow, but Garcia expects strikers to start trickling in again tonight to take advantage of the deals, which will last as long as the workers are on strike.

Mann says her people have told the workers to prepare for a month-long hiatus, but that they all hope it gets resolved quickly.

"There's definitely money being lost as we speak," Mann says. "Nobody is interested in that. These folks are just interested in making a living."

As for the reason behind the proposed wage cuts, Mann says it doesn't make much sense. She points to the greed of the owner of Maximus as a contributing factor and notes that the company has recently been picking up more business, so the cuts are not an attempt to save a floundering business.

Representatives from Maximus Coffee are rejecting requests for comments, but have released a blanket statement on the Web site:

"Maximus Coffee Group confirms that the United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 455 commenced a strike at our Houston, Texas facility, at 12:01 a.m. on October 10, 2013. The Company has prepared for the possibility of a work stoppage, and it continues to work diligently to meet the needs of its customers. It does not anticipate any significant, longterm disruptions to its operations. Maximus has made significant efforts to reach agreement with the union, and it continues to stand ready, willing, and able to meet with the UFCW at the negotiating table to bargain in good faith."

"I think the owner didn't believe that these workers would take him on," Mann says. "This plant hasn't had a strike before, and that's a good thing. But at some point you have to either stand or let whatever happens happen."

And as long as they stand, local businesses like Voodoo Queen will be supporting them. And quenching their thirst with PBR.

"They're just people from the neighborhood who are obviously hard up and upset about their work environment," Garcia says. "And we're here to take care of people and ease their woes."

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