Beecher’s Handmade Cheese is a prominent, local, artisan cheesemaker. Founded in Seattle in 2003, Beecher’s now anchors popular in-house cheesemaking shops in both Seattle and the Flatiron District of New York City.
Back in September of 2015, nine hoop-breakers – a job requiring extreme physical labor that comes near the end of the cheese-making process – came to Fair Work Center alleging that they were routinely denied breaks, paid sick leave time and overtime. When they did take leave, they said they had been retaliated against by their manager.
At the time, Fair Work Center did not yet have a legal clinic, just three staff and a part-time legal director. We formally requested the Seattle Office of Labor Standards (OLS) file a Director’s Charge on behalf of the cheese-making employees at Beecher’s. After months of Fair Work Center advocating alongside and on behalf of those workers, OLS worked to convene a settlement conference so that we could talk directly with Beecher’s and persuade them to change their practices.
In what would become our first major co-enforcement action with OLS, we saw company-wide changes at Beecher’s as a result of the charges filed and resulting settlement that finally came in May 2017. All cheese production workers at Beecher’s received raises. Every employee at Beecher’s will receive Know Your Rights training provided in a unique partnership between Beecher’s and the Fair Work Center. Supervisors will receive training on how to comply with Seattle’s labor standards, and Beecher’s will enhance its oversight of those employees. And the managing supervisor accused of denying breaks and paid sick leave, retaliating against employees who took leave, and denying overtime pay was fired. Training for employees and supervisors will begin later this year.
While the individual cases we represent are incredibly important for those individual workers – often meaning they can pay the rent on time or put food on the table – we are increasingly looking for cases like Beecher’s, where we can make company-wide or even industry-wide impacts. By working with the Office of Labor Standards on an innovative new model of co-enforcement, we are forging a path in labor standards enforcement with the potential to see powerful, lasting improvements for workers.