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‘Bobarista’ unrest leads to temporary closure of popular bubble tea shop

Several Boba drinks on the counter as customers walk through the Boba Guys store in San Francisco in July 2018. (Photo By Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

Popular bubble tea shop Boba Guys closed its Mission District location Thursday as discontent over reduced work hours and discussions about unionization arose among employees.

Workers, known as “bobaristas,” were upset that work hours were severely cut in August due to low cashflow at the homegrown chain’s 19th and Valencia Street cafe, according to employee Ashley Osorio Paredes. “How am I supposed to pay my bills with a wage of $16.99, and we only work 5 and a half hours per week?” she said.

In addition to the temporary store closure, two workers were fired Tuesday, and 13 others had their Slack and When I Work accounts deactivated Wednesday. The accounts are used for communications and scheduling, leaving the employees in the dark about their employment status.

Current and former employees criticized the firings and closures over social media, and Boba Guys later closed their Twitter account to all but “approved followers.”

Boba Guys co-owners Andrew Chau and Bin Chen said in a statement to The San Francisco Chronicle that they are aware of their employees’ concerns and support workers’ rights to collective bargaining. They did not respond to multiple requests for comment by The Standard.

An internal email sent by management to employees said that the Mission location would remain closed until they could hire “a full team to uphold our standards.”

Fired employee Madeline Urso said that once work hours were cut, she and her colleagues began discussing going on strike and forming a union over text and in person during shifts.

Urso had also shared messages over Slack with co-workers containing information about unemployment benefits and unionization. Urso said that there was no formal unionizing plan in motion, and sending the links was just to show solidarity. "It was meant to be putting something out there saying, 'If you’re not feeling heard, you’re not alone,’” Urso said.

Osorio Paredes said that a majority of workers at the Mission location were in favor of unionizing, and that if she continues to work at Boba Guys, she intends to push to form a union. "Our story was told to everyone here in the city and even as far as New York because of the reason they didn’t want us to unionize,” she said. “I will keep fighting as long as I’m here.”

Supervisor Hilary Ronen, who represents the Mission on the city’s Board of Supervisors, said that she supports the Boba Guys workers, along with the idea of unionizing. An attorney who once led the workers’ rights unit at Centro Legal de la Raza, Ronen added that at-will workers have little power in the workplace because they can be fired for any reason. "That’s why unions are needed.”

Garrett Leahy can be reached at

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