By Josefina Morales
On Sunday, June 13, workers at Gourdough’s Public House, an Austin restaurant and bar, walked out in response to extreme temperatures in the kitchen and back areas of the building, slowing down business and inspiring other workers to follow suit. Workers told Tribune that the owners’ negligence of the air conditioning goes back months, despite the fact that the workers have consistently raised the issue to management, who have downplayed concerns and fired one worker in retaliation.
Workers report that the high temperatures at the Gourdough’s in South Austin have gone ignored by ownership, with their concerns becoming more pressing in recent weeks as summer heat intensifies. Beginning on Monday, June 7, workers closed the kitchen early in protest for three days in a row. In response, the owners temporarily brought in portable AC units and claimed the problem was fixed.
By Saturday, the AC units were gone and temperatures in the workers’ areas reached the high 90s, with parts of the kitchen being even hotter. One worker shared a photo with Tribune taken on June 13 that shows a temperature reading inside the kitchen of 100 degrees.
“Whenever the AC went down out front it was fixed the same day,” a worker told Tribune. “They [owners] paid a repairman to do it, but whenever it is [broken] back here, they get the maintenance man or the prep cook to do it.”
The worker told Tribune that, in response to the employee demand to close early, one of Gourdough’s owners, Paula Samford, said over the phone: “Listen to me, this is my business. […] If you continue to do what you’re doing, then you won’t have a job to come back to tomorrow.”
The worker walked out on his shift in response, ultimately being fired in retaliation. Three workers in the kitchen and another in the bar then clocked out early, walking out in solidarity with their coworker.
Another worker told Tribune, “I was so mad. I told [customers], ‘Hey, our kitchen is at 102 degrees so it’s on strike. You guys can sit down and wait for the other people to show up if you want,’ and they turned out and walked out.”
When one of the workers who walked out returned for a shift the following day, Samford told him he was also fired. Supported by other workers on the shift, the worker demanded his job back and was reinstated with an additional income bonus.
On social media, Samford went into damage control and attempted to dismiss workers’ concerns in a series of posts. In response, workers and sympathizers posted pictures of the temperature readings from inside the restaurant, prompting the owner to delete her posts, which had appeared to mock the workers who walked out due to the terrible conditions.
Former workers have corroborated the inhumane conditions at Gourdough’s, suggesting that the AC issues go back five years along with rampant pest issues. “Everyone was starting to be more vocal about it, instead of suffering through it—you know, that we shouldn’t have to work in these conditions,” one worker told Tribune.
The worker who initiated the walk-out said, “The business is doing better than it ever has, but I don’t know about [that] any more, after yesterday [the walk-out].”
“Pandemic time helped [the owners] because we became the only bar that was open in the neighborhood,” another worker explained. “Their pocket is growing, our wages are not.”
Editor’s Note: The article has been updated since publication to clarify the section regarding the worker who was reinstated after walking out.
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