A number of former Oyster House employees picketed their former employer on Wednesday, alleging a host of concerns, including workplace hostility and a toxic, dysfunctional environment.
The landmark business that overlooks Percival Landing remained open for business during the picketing. The owner, Leticia Barrett, could not be reached. Manager Abram Smith said an attorney had advised him not to comment.
The restaurant, which has been a fixture on Olympia’s waterfront for years, burned down in July 2013, was rebuilt, and reopened about a year later.
The former employees, including one woman still technically employed by the Oyster House, met at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Water Street on Wednesday. About a dozen showed up throughout the morning, followed by four picketers about 1 p.m. A former longtime employe, Ottis Morgan, joined them in the afternoon.
What they said:
▪ Christian Ramirez, 24, who worked at the Oyster House before it burned, recently returned to work as a server. After a week, he was promoted to manager, Ramirez said. Among his experiences: Being yelled at by the owner in front of customers, and being accused of stealing clams and oysters from the business. “It used to be a fun place to work,” he said.
▪ Cari Sowles, 52, who worked as a server from May to August, described the owner as paranoid. “You were scared that you were going to get yelled at,” she said, adding that the screaming and yelling made it stressful.
▪ Lexi Paul, 23, technically still employed as a server, has worked there since May. She called it a “roller coaster, toxic and hostile.” She is now “on call,” she said, but doesn’t expect to be scheduled to work.
▪ Catarina Nece, 17, worked as a server for three weeks, including serving alcohol as a minor. She said the owner “accused me of not coming to work on my day off.”
▪ Ottis Morgan, 24, who was fired in May, worked as a busser for more than two years, before and after the fire. He said the business always has been “sternly run, but it was well run.” After former owner Thomas Barrett died and left the business to his wife, Leticia, things began to change. Firings happened with regularity, he said, and it was not unusual to see employees crying.
He said he was fired for delivering his girlfriend’s W-4 tax form to her. She also was fired, he said. He believes that employees are kept “on call” indefinitely so that Barrett doesn’t have to pay unemployment.
“She’s driving the business into the ground,” Morgan said. “She doesn’t deserve people’s business the way she’s running it.”