CENSORSHIP. Woods Coffee engages in ideological censorship. Owner W.W. Herman has at various times banned the Cascadia Weekly, the Betty Pages, Whatcom Watch, and Whatsup! Magazine from Woods Coffee. Herman’s explanations for this censorship have differed depending on his target audience, and have changed considerably over the course of our boycott; Herman has variously claimed that local media are “too messy” or “not family friendly,” "age inappropriate" and even “too liberal” for his tastes. For someone who makes his living serving the community, censorship is surely a destructive and anti-social behavior. Herman's myriad self-justifications hardly pass the test of common sense; Cascadia Weekly, for instance, distributes over one million paper copies every year, and is virtually omnipresent in Whatcom and Skagit counties. As to the real cause of Herman's censorship, the Boycott Committee's best guess is that it is ideological. There is never an excuse for ideological censorship, especially considering the fact that at least one Woods Coffee store is located on public property. We call on everyone in the community to request that W.W. Herman stop censoring local media.
UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICES. Woods Coffee’s employment practices reflect W.W. Herman’s troubled personality. Herman's ex-employees have described an employment atmosphere of mistrust and oppressiveness. In 2011 boycott members witnessed Herman leading employee bible studies and prayer sessions, which at least two employees confirmed as mandatory. When confronted, W.W. Herman denied forcing his workers into prayer.
RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION. Woods Coffee also allegedly discriminates on the basis of religious denomination in hiring their employees. In April of 2011, three ex-employees (independently) told boycott members that the first question Herman asked them when applying for jobs was, “which church do you go to?” Again, W.W. Herman denied this.
WAGE PROBLEMS. More than a few contract workers have told boycott committee members that W.W. Herman scammed them of wages, or failed to respond to invoices. Herman, a large man, may also have a history of intimidating employees into silence. A few former employees have documented harassment or mistreatment. Unfortunately, this kind of behavior seems to fit the pattern of a man convicted of felony fraud in federal court.
SEXISM. In 2011, W.W. Herman was also reported to have made sexist comments to the WWU Women’s Business club. Apparently, Herman claimed that he doesn't "like to hire women, because they [women] can’t keep their mouths shut.” The overall picture gleaned by our boycott committee of Woods Coffee qua workplace, is one of domination, silence, and oppression.
FALSE ADVERTISING. Woods Coffee has made conflicting claims as to its product, which is neither uniformly fair-trade certified nor organic. W.W. Herman continues to walk a fine line of (illegally) false advertising.
Over the last ten years, W.W. Herman has said on more than one occasion that he is ideologically opposed to the idea of fair-trade certification. Simultaneously, until the attention our boycott brought on the issue in 2011, his products were marketed as “fair trade certified and organic.” When our committee contacted several major international fair-trade certification organizations that year, none had any listing of W.W. Herman or of Woods Coffee. At this time, our boycott did a survey of Woods Coffee products offered in-store and in other venues, and found that every single product carried the AFTA fair-trade and organic logos. Presumably called out on his unauthorized and erroneous marketing by one or more of these organizations, the logos disappeared from Herman's subsequent product offerings. This re-branding strategy was accompanied by changes to the "fair-trade organic" description on the Woods Coffee website and Wikipedia pages. We take this to be behavioral evidence of Herman, once again, being caught mid-fraud.
Herman has claimed that he gets his coffee directly from Guatemala, from a supplier that he trusts. According to Herman, the "direct trade" system is better "for farmers" than the fair-trade system. But as we have tried to point out, Herman is misunderstanding the Fair-Trade movement which he was once so eager to co-opt. The purpose of fair-trade certification is to protect not the landowning farmers, but the actual production workers and their families, and the land itself from economic exploitation. By claiming that he is "skipping the certifying middle-men for the benefit of the farm owners" Herman is in fact participating in the economic exploitation of Central-American workers and their families.
More disturbing is the fact that Herman falsely used the AFTA logo despite his stated opposition to the idea of fair-trade certification. This puzzling act points to a deep cynicism on Herman's part. If the fair-trade principle isn't good enough for Woods Coffee to adhere to ethically, why bother with the marketing sham? The only answer to this is to defraud customers through false advertisement.
PREJUDICED POLITICAL CRONY-ISM. W.W. Herman has a history of engaging in right-wing political endeavors. Woods Coffee contributes to the notorious BIAW slush fund, which has been repeatedly investigated by the government for fraud. This Builders' Industry Association connection dates back to Herman's days in the Lynden construction industry, where he tried unsuccessfully to scam the government. We believe that Herman's anti-social behavior (false-advertising, censorship, outright fraud) is rooted in an anarcho-capitalist ideology in which government oversight of public commerce is illegitimate. While Herman has failed for decades to pay his taxes, he has supported numerous TEA-party causes and candidates. Again, Herman chooses to contribute to these causes not under his own name (which is a matter of public record), but through third-parties such as the BIAW slush-fund.
Herman’s censorship, seen in the light of his obvious political, ethically-deficient drive for profit and disdain for government is extremely disconcerting. How can a convicted fraudster who does not regularly pay his personal property taxes be trusted to do business on public property (like the Boulevard Park location)?
DISRESPECT FOR THE COMMUNITY. Wesley Wayne Herman and the Woods Coffee like to sell themselves on their supposed “pro-community” attitude. However, Herman's actions do not at all mesh with his words. Aside from his history of failing to pay his taxes from the 1990's until the present, Herman has repeatedly proven that he does not have the community interest at heart. Herman, without first bothering to assess the needs or desires of the community, tried in early 2011 to commission a corporate art sculpture advertisement for the public sidewalk in downtown Bellingham. The planned sculpture was to be a giant Woods Coffee cup dumping gallons of fake coffee on the public sidewalk. Herman insisted on the addition of a giant Woods Coffee logo to the sculpture, though the original design did not include it, making it in fact not public art but corporate advertising. After meeting with a grassroots resistance (which also uncovered his failure to properly permit the ad), he abandoned his plans. Herman selectively chooses which community causes to support, based on his political ideology.
ANTI-GAY ATTACKS ON LGBT COMMUNITIES
W.W. Herman has once again proven himself to be an intolerant ideologue by taking stances against the rights of gays. Herman consistently funds anti-gay political causes through various PAC's, as well as taking personal stances against the LGBT community. It is our opinion that the original impetus for Woods Coffee's censoring of local media materials was the pro-LGBT stance of the otherwise ubiquitous monthly Betty Pages. The latest example of Herman's anti-gay rhetoric this comes from Riley Sweeney at sweenypolitics.com (2012):
Sweeney is investigating these allegations further, and says he has heard from two sources confirming the allegation. We feel comfortable publishing this in part because it fits the general pattern of Herman's backroom-dealing, bigoted behavior. Certainly the allegations of discrimination and Herman's subsequent backpedaling should come as no surprise. Stay tuned to Sweeney's blog for future episodes of Herman's bigotry.
This year Woods Coffee petitioned the city to require the Pride Parade not to go past their store. This wasn’t an economic decision, considering the hundreds of cups of coffee they sold as a result of the pride festival being on their doorstep, this was a religious decision by the owner who objected to the Pride Parade. So, if you are looking for a local way to continue the boycott with your dollars, avoiding Woods Coffee would be it.
DISRESPECT FOR DISABLED PERSONS. In November of 2011, Chris "Bruce" Deile, a disabled Bellingham resident, was assailed and trespassed from the Flatiron Woods Coffee location in downtown Bellingham. Mr. Deile, who uses a certified service dog, was apparently too slow in using the restroom at Woods Coffee, an offense for which he was permanently banned from all Woods Coffee locations for life. Mr. Deile, as he was being forced out of the building, protested his mistreatment and the police were called to deal with the situation by Woods Coffee management. Mr. Deile stood outside that location for nearly three weeks passing out copies of a letter he had published detailing his mistreatment.
Lapse in ethical oversight regarding public property. Our boycott, as we have said, started as a response to censorship in Herman's business. We are concerned coffee consumers, and were not at all prepared for the sheer volume of information from members of the public which immediately deluged us. We are attempting to understand the exact nature of Herman's insider deal with the CoB that in effect gave him a rent-free contract that is automatically renewed. According to public records, Herman sent an invoice to the CoB for what amounts more than 11 years of free rent, for renovating the Boulevard Park location. It is unclear if the invoice was ever audited or if it was simply accepted at face value. To date, the City of Bellingham has not seen a dime in usage fees or rent from Herman or Woods Coffee.
If any of this is troubling to you, we encourage you to make your own inquiries and judge for yourself whether or not Woods Coffee is the kind of enterprise worthy of your patronage. If you feel like we do, we encourage you to take further action.