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Second Cup dispute goes to labour board

Employer agrees she disciplined, fired staff after union vote

by Hilary Beaumont

Andrew Gouthro was fired following the union vote.
Andrew Gouthro was fired following the union vote.
Cafe workers and supporters rally outside Second Cup.
Cafe workers and supporters rally outside Second Cup.
This photo was posted inside the cafe prior to the vote, but the owner said she didn't see it until weeks later.
This photo was posted inside the cafe prior to the vote, but the owner said she didn't see it until weeks later.

Second Cup franchise owner Kathy Attis disciplined and fired three employees following a union vote, the Labour Board heard this week.

Current and former employees painted a picture of a boss who intimidated, punished and fired staff after the vote on June 5.

Following the vote, Attis cut employees’ hours dramatically, they said.

Employees testified that Attis’ actions were meant to punish employees for attempting to form a union.

SEIU lawyer Bruce Price argued Attis’ actions contravened the Trade Union Act.

Attis said after the union drive she turned into a "disciplinarian," cut employees' hours and fired three baristas, but said she did so to maintain order in the café.

“I’ve changed from a coach to a disciplinarian in the store. I like being a coach better.”

She argued that when employees made up their minds to unionize they felt entitled to run the café.

Attis testified she cut their hours because labour costs were far too high.

“I like to keep good employees,” she said. “I’m not looking for ways to get rid of them.”

Sales were down at the café prior to the dismissals, Attis and current Second Cup barista Shelby Kennedy testified. Financial records confirmed this.

Attis testified her accountant delivered the financial records the same day she received notification that employees wanted to unionize.


Photo advertised unionization attempt

Former employees Ellen Graham, Jude Kinder and Andrew Gouthro testified they were let go because they planned to unionize.

The three employees appeared in a photo that was posted in the café leading up to the vote. It carried the caption, “We’re voting yes!”

An unknown person posted the photo in the café in order to advertise the union’s intentions to the employer and staff, SEIU Local 2 representative Jason Edwards testified.

Price argued that hand-delivered notification of certification, union bracelets on employees' wrists and the colourful photo, posted in a prominent location in the store, tipped Attis off to the unionization attempt.

Customers asked about the photo, two baristas testified.

However, Attis said she first noticed the photo weeks later, in mid-to-late June. She said she didn't see the bracelets and did not immediately read the notification letter.

Six employees appeared in the photo. One resigned his position and two continue to work at the store.

In a letter to staff dated May 31, Attis wrote she did not want the store to unionize but said employees were free to vote as they wished.

The Second Cup employees voted on the union application on June 5. The votes have not yet been counted.


Three employees fired

The café owner did not dispute that she fired Graham, Kinder and Gouthro.

Attis testified she fired Graham after the barista failed to hand out coupons and was confused about covering a shift, which left the café “in chaos.”

Attis told her to take direction from her coworkers, the barista said. Her coworkers told her not to hand out the coupons because on one occasion they needed her help in the café, and on another it was raining, she said.

Graham was fired the day before the union vote. The board will rule on whether her vote will count.

Kinder, who was out of the country during the union vote, returned to a tense atmosphere in the café.

Attis disciplined Kinder for not wearing a uniform, missing a staff meeting and switching shifts with other employees without the owner's permission. Shortly after Kinder was disciplined, Attis fired the barista.

Attis presented Kinder with a disciplinary letter but Kinder, who prefers the pronoun “they,” refused to sign because they said it was inaccurate. Attis fired Kinder “on the spot,” the barista said.

The former employee testfied they told Attis they would not be at the staff meeting because they were going to be out of the country.

Kinder and other employees testified Attis was OK with shift exchanges without prior approval.

And Kinder said they were not on the clock when Attis disciplined them for not wearing a uniform.

Attis disciplined a third employee, Gouthro, for missing a shift and a staff meeting, and later fired him for failing to open the café one morning.

Gouthro said he missed a shift because he arrived to find another employee working the shift. Tgoether the two employees decided Gouthro should go home, he testified.

As for the staff meeting, Gouthro testified he told his boss he would miss the meeting because he was working on a play.

He said he could not open the café on one occasion because Attis did not give him a key.

Attis’ representative Edward Backman argued that although Gouthro did not have a phone, he could have borrowed one and called another employee to ask for a key.

“I don’t see how you could keep an employee under those circumstances,” Backman said.

Attis said she could not afford a lawyer for the entire process. Backman, her husband, represented her at the labour board hearing.

Gouthro had worked at Second Cup since November 2012 and Attis had not disciplined him prior to the union activity, Price pointed out.

Price asked the Labour Board to reinstate the fired employees with back pay.

The board will decide on Graham's dismissal before counting the votes. Once the votes are counted the board will rule on the remaining allegations of unfair labour practices, including the two other dismissals.

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Topics: Labour
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