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Just Us! baristas file complaint alleging lack of breaks

Management says complaint is union pressure tactic

by Hilary Beaumont

A Just Us! employee who says he was unfairly dismissed speaks at a rally in early April. (Photo by Hilary Beaumont)
A Just Us! employee who says he was unfairly dismissed speaks at a rally in early April. (Photo by Hilary Beaumont)

Three baristas at Just Us! Spring Garden Road are alleging the coffee co-op failed to give them breaks.

“It has, since the beginning of our employ, been the practice of the employer to deny employees their statutory minimum 30-minute, uninterrupted break when working in excess of five hours,” Charlie Huntley, Steven Large and Clark McMillan state in a complaint filed to the labour board on May 6.

“We’re only asking that the company uphold minimum provincial standards,” Huntley said in a press release posted on a website created to voice employee concerns. “We’re on our feet working hard for hours and hours; we deserve a few free minutes to eat our dinner.”

Baristas at the café’s Spring Garden Road location have been trying to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) since January. In late March, two former employees who were part of the union attempt allege they were unfairly dismissed. The SEIU filed a complaint to the labour board on their behalf.

The Labour Standards Code of Nova Scotia states that employees are legally entitled to “a rest or eating break of at least one-half hour” for more than five consecutive hours worked.

The code also states employees are not entitled to regular breaks if “an accident occurs, urgent work is necessary or unforeseeable or unpreventable circumstances occur” and “where it is unreasonable for an employee to take a meal break.”

If an employee has not been provided a rest or eating break, they are entitled to eat while working, the code continues.

“On numerous occasions, this issue has been raised with management at the café. In these discussions, employees have mentioned the contents of the code,” the complaint states.

“This is just one example of why we want to form a union,” Huntley said on the website. “We’ve repeatedly asked management to address issues like this and nothing has been done.”

In early April, several sources, including Huntley, told the Halifax Media Co-op employees had brought up concerns about breaks at staff meetings, but didn’t think their concerns were addressed.

As a remedy, the baristas are asking Just Us! to comply with the code and post a notice advising employees of their right to a 30-minute break for shifts of more than five hours.


Management disputes allegations

Just Us! general manager Debra Moore said Friday she didn’t know of any employees who had been denied breaks.

“To my knowledge, no one at Just Us! has ever been denied a break,” she said. “It just isn’t happening.”

She said the coffee co-op’s policy is to give a 15-minute paid break in addition to a 30-minute unpaid break for every four-to-six hour shift. Baristas make the decision whether to take breaks or not, she said.

“We staff so that there are enough people to take breaks,” Moore said.

She said the last time the Just Us! break policy was revised was two years ago. That was the last time employees complained about breaks, she said.

“It’s fairly clear to me that for whatever reason, the union is just wanting to keep the pressure up, so this is just another situation,” Moore said. “The complaint itself from what I’ve read is just so full of holes. I think it’s a way to keep the pressure up and keep us in the news.”

SEIU Atlantic representative Jason Edwards said Wednesday the goal of the complaint was both to ensure employees concerns were recognized and keep the story in the news.

“There is that element of course, that public relations or public image that comes out of it, but at the same time, if something like that could have a two-fold positive outcome where people actually do start getting their breaks.”


Negotiations continue

Moore said management had met with the union once, and they would meet again May 14. She said the two sides would discuss whether to reinstate the two employees who say they were unfairly let go.

The labour board has offered to mediate, if necessary, Moore said.

“We’re optimistic,” Edwards said, while acknowledging a need to be diplomatic.

The labour board hearing is set for the end of June.


Full disclosure: Charlie Huntley is friends with the author.

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Thank you for keeping an eye

Thank you for keeping an eye on this topic Ms. Beaumont.

The site for the Halifax local of The Media Co-op has been archived and will no longer be updated. Please visit the main Media Co-op website to learn more about the organization.