An open letter to Freak Lunchbox’s owners Jeremy Smith and Erin Schwanz, We are writing today as a group of former Freak Lunchbox employees. We must challenge your assertion—quoted in The Coast’s December 20 article “Labour concerns at Freak Lunchbox” and again in your January 3 letter to the editor “A Freak situation”—that Freak Lunchbox is a good place to work.
As employers, it is not up to you to determine what is or is not a good place to work. You reference your compliance with Labour Standards Code minimums, but that is woefully insufficient. Further, you have shown hostility to any suggestion of providing any more than the minimum, even for things that are industry standard across retail environments. While paid 15-minute breaks, antifatigue mats, anti-slip mats for outside and the opportunity to purchase warm uniform sweaters are not set out in labour laws, they are provided widely across the retail sector.
You play the card of being a small family run business or a corporation depending on what is most advantageous. When we asked for 15-minute breaks we were told that, as a small business, you could not afford to. Yet, when we asked for a meeting with you, you replied that you [weren’t] running a candy store, [you were] running a corporation.
In your responses, you have singled out one individual and slandered her character. This is incredibly inappropriate, immature and unprofessional—the very things that you accused us of when all we asked was to meet with you collectively. You have consistently tried to paint our collective action as that of one disgruntled employee. This is both untrue and insulting to the work we put in, listening to each other’s concerns, planning and writing collectively to express our needs as workers. We know that it is less threatening to think that one person is challenging the status quo, and we know you know the power workers have when we stand together. That is why you reacted to our collective action with individual meetings.
You say that the employee in question did not bring her concerns up to you individually beforehand. This is both untrue and ignores the power that you held as employers over our lives. We had been asking for anti-slip mats for two years, sweaters for one year and paid 15-minute breaks for a number of months. All of these had been brought up individually to our manager, in the communication binder, and collectively in staff meetings. By the time we requested a meeting with you, we felt that we had exhausted what we could achieve with the channels that had been set out for us. Workers have the right to make collective representation to their bosses because of the inherent power imbalance between bosses and workers.
Your side of this story has been told. Both your side individually as the owners of Freak Lunchbox, and the side of business owners broadly. You profit from your image as a desirable place to work, a quirky local business with Disney-character employees who love their jobs. Our side, the side of workers who individually hold little power in the employer-employee relationship, is rarely told. But we will not be silent anymore. —Several former employees, with support from the Industrial Workers of the World