Smiling Goat baristas turn up heat on café owner at Saturday protest

A group of baristas who work at the Smiling Goat coffee shop chain held a protest Saturday morning to demand owner Kit Singh pay workers who they say are still owed money.

Café workers are staying and fighting so the cycle doesn't continue, union organizer says

Workers from the Smiling Goat cafes speak at a March 23 news conference in Halifax. The baristas held a protest Saturday over unpaid wages they say are still owed to workers at the coffee shop chain. (CBC)

A group of baristas who work at the Smiling Goat coffee shop chain held a protest Saturday morning to demand owner Kit Singh pay workers who they say are still owed money.

Earlier this month, Smiling Goat employees put a sidewalk sign outside one of the downtown Halifax cafés to let customers know their paycheques were bouncing and to request a generous tip to make up for the lack of pay. They also held a news conference to talk about their plight.

The workers in four of the cafés have since joined Service Employees International Union, a North American organization that has about two million members. Two other coffee shops were already unionized before Singh purchased them.

Darius Mirshahi, an organizer with the union, said while some of the workers who were owed money have been paid, there are others still waiting for their wages.

"He [Singh] is pretending he doesn't know how much people are owed. He's paid some people, the people he perceives as leaders in the union movement … the people who are making noise about it," said Mirshahi.

Singh could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Employees at a Smiling Goat coffee shop in Halifax let customers know about their pay cheques bouncing. (CBC)

There are now about 40 unionized workers at the six cafés owned by Smiling Goat, Mirshahi said.

He said the union has filed grievances with the Nova Scotia Labour Board to force Singh to pay the baristas, some who are owed thousands of dollars. There are also complaints about deductions never remitted to the Canada Revenue Agency, records of employment and non-payment of health benefits.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill, members of the service employees' union and other labour group representatives attended Saturday's protest.

"The campaign [is] to force the owner of the Smiling Goat to obey basic labour law, to pay his workers — on time and in full," Mirshahi said.

"It's outrageous that we even have to do that, it's outrageous that it has been dragging on this long. The basic fundamentals of running a business is that you have to pay your workers."

Some workers turning to court system

Some workers are looking to collect their wages through small claims court, as well as through the province's labour standards board, he said.

"A lot of people ask 'Why don't the workers just quit?' I think it is really important for the public to know that the workers made a decision to stay and fight because if they just quit, then it would just keep happening in a cycle over and over again to other workers," Mirshahi said.

"They're taking a stand not only for themselves, but to show that that kind of business practice is not going to be tolerated in our city … because if Kit Singh can get away with it, any other café owner can get away with it too."