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‘Workers adopting positions adverse to the employer will be disciplined’ —Just Us!

Coffee roaster has violated Trade Union Act again, SEIU alleges

Two former Just Us! employees protest in front of the cafe April 7. (Photo by Hilary Beaumont)
Two former Just Us! employees protest in front of the cafe April 7. (Photo by Hilary Beaumont)

Just Us! has contravened the Trade Union Act again, according to the union representing the café’s employees.

On April 7, the same day as a protest in front of the Spring Garden Road café, supervisor Ali Larsen told employee Charlie Huntley there would be consequences if workers continue to unionize, a lawyer representing Service Employees International Union (SEIU) wrote to the Nova Scotia Labour Relations Board on April 12.

“At or around 5:30 p.m., Ms. Larsen clearly articulated to Charlie that if the employees at the Spring Garden café unionized, there would be consequences to doing so, including the fact that employees would lose their annual profit sharing payments,” union lawyer Bruce Price wrote.

“The statement of Ms. Larsen made it clear that employees would be penalized monetarily for having exercised rights under the Act,” he wrote. “This contravenes the unfair practices provisions of the Act.

A memo from management also violated the Trade Union Act, Price wrote in another letter April 15.

“Workers adopting positions adverse to the employer (Just Us! Coffee Roasters) will be disciplined,” the health and safety memo, posted April 12, states.

“Clearly workers are entitled to their opinions and to expressing those opinions on their own time,” the memo continues. “Workers most definitely should not be causing stress in the workplace by announcing their positions and opinions to other workers or to customers.”

Employees should not wear union T-shirts at work, the memo said.

“…[Just Us!] certainly views the activities of its employees, in supporting the Union’s organizing drive, as being adverse to its interests,” Price wrote in response to the memo on April 15.

“Accordingly, its statement could not be clearer in drawing the link between the potential for discipline and one’s support in the workplace for the Union and the organizing drive. The impugned statement is clearly aimed at creating a chill in the workplace.”

Just Us! employees don’t wear a uniform, and the business has previously been flexible toward clothing in the workplace, and a prohibition on union T-shirts is “clearly aimed at stifling any demonstration of support for the Union in the workplace,” Price wrote.

In December, employees at Just Us! Spring Garden Road began organizing with the SEIU. On March 27, two employees say they were dismissed after attempting to unionize. On March 28, the SEIU filed a complaint to the labour board alleging Just Us! violated the Trade Union Act by “dismissing” the employees.

Just Us! contends it had no knowledge of the unionization attempt prior to the employees’ job termination. The union says that’s not true.

Currently, Just Us! Spring Garden Road employees are continuing the unionization attempt. Talks between the union and management are ongoing.

The SEIU has asked Just Us! to reinstate the two workers.


Management responds to allegations

Just Us! denies it has violated the Trade Union Act “in any way or at any time,” management’s legal counsel Andrew Montgomery wrote in response to the union’s allegations.

The health and safety memo was posted due to stress related to unionization efforts, Montgomery said. The stress has reached the point that supervisor Ali Larsen has become concerned about the health of certain employees, he wrote.

Stress due to SEIU recruitment required the attention of supervisor Ali Larsen more than normal, and one employee refused to work the day of the protest out of fear for her safety, he wrote.

“A memo was indeed put up in the workplace but was directed at activities in the workplace during regular business hours that are prohibited under … the Trade Union Act.”

Just Us! alleges employees engaged in union activities during normal work hours, in violation of the Trade Union Act.

Just Us! agrees Larsen spoke to Charlie Huntley on April 7, and they did discuss the benefits the employee was entitled to, “but at no time did [Larsen] ever state explicitly or implicitly that Charlie’s benefits or any of them were in jeopardy or would be or might be lost because of union organizing,” Montgomery wrote.

On Friday, April 12, Huntley entered the Spring Garden Road café after hours without permission, Just Us! alleges. Huntley wasn’t scheduled to work that day, Montgomery wrote. Huntley was in the café for 12 minutes, he said. “This incident would be very atypical for any employee and raises legitimate concerns about what Charlie might have been doing on the premises of the Spring Garden Rd. café after hours when it was closed,” he wrote.

As for the jobs of the two former Just Us! employees, Just Us! said sales were down at the Spring Garden Road café, and Larsen reviewed labour force and performance as a result.

“Following [Larsen’s] review of the work force at Spring Garden Rd. and the slumping sales numbers, the employment relationship of [the two employees and Just Us!] was terminated without cause and with pay in lieu of notice. Furthermore, the pay in lieu of notice provided was significantly greater than that required under the Labour Standards Code of Nova Scotia,” Montgomery wrote.

“…[T]he sole reason for the terminations was that [the employees’] work performance, relationships with colleagues, and service to customers were the least compatible with the philosophy, objects [sic] and goals of [Just Us!] of all the employees at the Spring Garden Rd. café,” he said.

“[Just Us!] has made it clear to the SEIU that it has no reason to resist any informed choice by its café employees to organize and further, if they did choose to organize, [Just Us!] would act in cooperation with the union in any way reasonably possible to ensure the interested of its employees are protected,” Montgomery added.

Just Us! general manager Debra Moore declined to comment for this story.

When she spoke to the Halifax Media Co-op on April 6, she said management would support any further unionization attempt, and that they would have been “warm” to the idea of a union.


Pro-union protests continue

Just Us! current and former employees and their supporters protested outside the café’s Wolfville location over the weekend.

Another protest is planned for April 28 at Grand Pre during the Just Us! investors meeting. The union has arranged for a bus to transport protesters from Halifax to Grand Pre.


Full disclosure: Just Us! Spring Garden Road employee Charlie Huntley is a friend of the author.

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If you want to support me, Elijah, and other Just Us baristas...

...Then please come to our rally this Sunday, April 28th, at 11:30 outside the Just Us! Cafe in Grande Pre (transportation provided to and from Halifax): https://www.facebook.com/events/155806421254979/

And sign our petition: http://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/just-us-cease-all-anti-union-activity-reinstate-terminated-employees-recognize-workers-right-to-form-a-union?utm_source=guides&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=petition_target_tips

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.