About 100 protesters chanted outside Just Us! Cafe on Spring Garden Road Sunday, holding pro-union signs. Inside, managers seemed tense. Three police officers stood watch.
The conflict was over the alleged dismissal of Shay Enxuga and Elijah Williams. The pair says they were fired on March 27 for organizing a union. Enxuga and Williams have filed an Unfair Labour Practice complaint with the Labour Board---which management, as of Saturday, says it has yet to receive.
Enxuga says that a week before he was fired, he was told he was “the glue that held the cafe together.” Later, he’d be brought into the basement of the shop and told that he would not be starting his morning shift.
Spring Garden manager Ali Larsen declined to comment to The Coast, but other managers have responded to the allegations inconsistently.
Debra Moore, the general manager of the company, says the former baristas stopped working at Spring Garden after a mutual “parting of ways.”
But the location’s head barista, Stu Cochrane, expressed a somewhat different view of events on Facebook. “Don’t let disgruntled former employees bring down a good company’s image,” he wrote. “Union talks came up after they were let go for their shoddy work ethics.” Asked for further comment, Cochrane declined to elaborate.
Charlie Huntley, a Just Us! barista who supports the union drive, says Cochrane’s assessment is untrue. “The two of them [Enxuga and Williams] are the hardest workers on the floor. They are efficient, they have really good customer service skills, they really are dedicated to their jobs.”
Debra Moore says the historically pro-union coffee shop has been in close talks with union organizers since Friday. “For us as a business, because of the generous way we pay people and (give) benefits, we don't have much to be afraid of with a union…the workers own it.”
Not all workers are owners in the co-op. In order to become a member, one must work at JustUs! for two years full-time, then invest $1,600 and go through an interview process, before a consensus vote from the current co-op membership. Currently, 14 of approximately 75 employees of Just Us are members of the co-op. Only two of those 14 work as managers in local cafes.
Moore says the talks are going well, although the co-op membership is taking time to make their decisions by consensus. “This could have been a really positive story and something really exciting for Nova Scotia. But we weren’t told of anything.”
Workers say they went to a union first because Just Us! has a history of brushing off baristas’ concerns. Shayna George, a former employee of Just Us! Wolfville, says she was pushed out of the company for “third-party communications.” Company policy dictates that workers should address their problems directly to the parties involved, rather than discussing issues with other coworkers.
George and other workers in Wolfville had problems with their manager. She says the company grievance policy wasn’t effective. They started speaking with a union organizer. They also spoke with workers at the Spring Garden and Barrington locations who had similar grievances, but thought a union was “too extreme.” Rather than unionizing alone, cafe workers in Wolfville wrote a letter with the Halifax locations to the co-operative instead.
The letter was signed by 26 people. It was not well-received.
“I was treated as the rabble rouser,” George says. By February of 2012, she says she was asked to leave.
Moore won’t comment on the letter, but says that she had never heard about Just Us! employees in Wolfville considering a union. She did, however, point out that the co-op has supported unions in the past. “Over the years, we’ve been on picket lines.”
At one point, when brainstorming ways that non-member workers could have more of a voice in the co-op, founder Jeff Moore even suggested unionizing as an option.
“For Just Us, a union isn't scary,” Debra Moore says. “Maybe it will help some things.”
George isn’t buying it. “That would really negate this [protest] needing to exist,” she says. “If she really believes that it’s OK for this company to have a union, then she would be supporting these baristas.”