Milk & Honey Market on Baltimore Avenue near 45th Street in West Philadelphia, which had been targeted with protests for the last week over wage and safety issues, has closed indefinitely, its owners say.
The shop’s dozen workers had considered themselves on strike.
In a letter posted on Milk & Honey’s website, Annie Baum-Stein, who founded the business in late 2009 with husband Mauro Daigle (and, later, operated a satellite location at Sister Cities Park in Center City), wrote that “in the midst of this horrible pandemic, we have been faced with demonstrations and social media attacks that have attempted to portray us as people we are not and to intimidate us and our customers over a series of perceived grievances.”
The striking workers created an Instagram account, @milkandhoneyworkersunited, to list demands, including personal protection equipment, the ability to raise safety concerns with management, a policy of no staff working alone at any point on a shift, thermometer checks for staff, and a $15-an-hour wage. A representative of @milkandhoneyworkersunited declined to provide further comment Monday.
Meanwhile, the Milk & Honey owners in the letter said they were “committed to the health and safety of our workers, our customers, and our community" and described themselves as "proudly pro-worker, pro-living wage, pro-universal [health] care, and pro-negotiation kind of people.”
The letter lays out a timeline:
May 12: Milk & Honey, which employed a dozen people, reopened with protocols to protect workers and customers, based on government-issued rules and recommendations.
May 25: Owners said they were told that some staff members, many of whom had not returned to work, “had concerns regarding protocols, transportation, and financial issues as a result of the pandemic.”
May 26: A staff meeting was held, during which owners “made clear that we were committed to addressing the issues raised and to accommodate our staff to every extent possible,” the letter said. "It was agreed that concerns would be presented in writing and addressed in a coordinated manner.”
May 27: Milk & Honey was open for business “while trying to understand how best to stay open and accommodate our staff,” the letter said.
May 28: The store was closed. Workers affixed a cardboard sign to the outside of the door announcing that they had unionized, according to a post on the Facebook page of Dignity, a workers-rights organization. The Dignity post noted that the store was trying to hire replacement workers for $17 an hour, which was $2 an hour more than current employees had been offered.
The letter says that on May 28, “before being given enough of an opportunity to fully review and respond to the 22 items listed, most of which we are in full agreement with, a cohort of our staff in conjunction with many who have no affiliation with Milk & Honey began protesting in front of our store.”
“We’ve been harassed and threatened, and our good name in the community has been marred,” Baum-Stein wrote.
"We are reasonable, hardworking, caring people who’ve invested all that we have into this business. In the best of circumstances, it’s not easy, under COVID-19 conditions [it’s] monumentally difficult. We were hoping to be able to address the concerns raised and collectively approach pulling our business and our staff back up from the brink that this pandemic has put us all on the edge of.
“Regrettably, with the extremely aggressive approach taken, that now feels and appears unattainable. Accordingly, with love for the support we’ve received through the years and unimaginable disappointment we’ve decided we cannot continue and will remain closed indefinitely.
“We do so at enormous personal and financial loss along with the knowledge that 12 jobs are lost, customers will no longer have the convenience and warm-heartedness of our store, and the business community will be faced with yet another shuttered storefront."
The owners have not returned The Inquirer’s messages for comment.
This article has been updated with information about the workers’ Instagram account.