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Since the end of January, coffee shop workers in Halifax are taking action against union busting efforts made by their employer. Nine workers, including the four leaders of the union drive at the Java Blend North Street location, were let go on January 23.
On Wednesday January 31, the four union leaders held a press conference under the banner of SEIU Local 2 where they announced their intention to fight against these firings. In a press release that was given at the conference, the Union announced that they had filed an Unfair Labour Practice legal complaint with the Nova Scotia Labour Board.
The filing reads that "the Union will be seeking orders that: all affected workers are reinstated, general and pecuniary damages to the impacted workers and the Union itself, declaratory relief, and that the Board’s decision be posted in the workplace." The statement goes on to clarify that the Union is seeking the immediate reinstatement of all nine workers and reimbursement for all lost wages and benefits.
Additionally, the union announced that they would be holding a public rally today, February 10 at 1 pm outside of the Java Blend North Street location. Highlighted at the press conference were some of the union busting methods employed by ownership.
Workers at Java Blend North Street and Sackville Street locations, as well as Cortado Tasting Bar participated in a labour board certification vote on June 2, 2023. Eight months later the results of the vote remain sealed due to ownership objecting as to which workers should be allowed in the union and subsequent Labour Board bureaucracy.
Further, Emily Kristensen, another union leader at the Sackville shop, said that at the January 23, 2024 termination meeting, “we were all then presented with a Non-Disclosure Agreement, which, if we had signed, would have provided additional termination pay, but also required us to keep all details confidential... However, our silence is not for sale.”
"We believe our terminations are a direct result of orchestrated retaliation from Java Blend aimed at crushing our workers' rights," said worker and organizer Cailen Pygott, who worked for the Java Blend for over six years prior to being fired last week. “Java Blend will say they are facing mounting debt, but from my perspective, [that’s] inconsistent with terminating staff at its most lucrative cafe on North St.”
Each of the Java Blend Locations and the Cortado Tasting Room are co-owned by Joe Dunford, Alex Lee, Adam Bose and Ibrar Ul Haq Malazi. Ownership claims that the firings had nothing to do with union busting, but were entirely based on financial necessity. However, Lee has said that investors have previously asked the ownership group to fire Pygott, and that in a conversation last month, Lee told Pygott that unionization efforts were making it difficult to 'attract investors'.
In light of the exposure of the union busting tactics by the workers and the Union, ownership has turned to the defensive. They claim that they have since dropped the requirement to sign an agreement in order to receive severance and have turned off the ability to comment on their original Instagram post announcing the firings.
The fired union leaders said that they have been inspired by the recent success of the workers at Pete's Frootique in Halifax. Pete's workers, under the banner of SEIU Local 2, recently won their first contract at the Sobey's owned grocery store after seven weeks on the picket line.
“Forming a Union was important because I deeply care about the well-being of my co-workers in the workplace,” said Andy Mawko, another fired union leader. “Over the four years I’ve worked there, I witnessed a lot of change in the company such as unfair scheduling and hours being cut.” He added, “We knew that forming a Union was the only way we could do something about these issues.”