Just Us Coffee Roasters Co-op in Nova Scotia isn’t the kind of business that seems ripe for an employee revolt. The worker-owned co-operative serves up fair-trade organic coffee, pays above minimum wage and offers employees perks such as health benefits, profit-sharing and money to buy shoes.
Yet earlier this year, the company found itself at the centre of a growing protest movement among baristas in Halifax. In April, workers at the Just Us on Spring Garden Road complained that managers were denying them 30-minute breaks and that two employees had been fired for trying to start a union drive, sparking a wave of demonstrations. Workers at the store recently voted to join the Service Employees International Union, prompting workers at two Second Cup shops in Halifax to launch their own union drive this month, saying they want more control over scheduling and how to divvy up their tips.
While unionized coffee shops are rare, similar protests are playing out far beyond Halifax, as workers are faced with an economic recovery marked by the growth of low-wage service jobs and the continued hollowing out of traditional middle-class manufacturing positions. Last week, thousands of workers at fast food and retail chains in seven U.S. cities walked off the job, demanding their wages be doubled, to $15 an hour.
The nationwide strike came as President Barack Obama visited an Amazon fulfillment centre in Tennessee last week to tout his proposed middle-class job-creation programs. The visit, coinciding with Amazon’s announcement that it would hire 5,000 new warehouse workers, sparked a fierce outcry among independent booksellers who complain that Amazon is precisely the kind of company that has contributed to the decline of the middle class by employing poorly paid workers under punishing conditions in order to slash costs.