On January 13, a collective of former employees at Deli Sokolow published a statement on Facebook detailing the restaurant owners’ ongoing neglect of their legal responsibilities and gross mistreatment of their workers. The deli was located in St. Henri, a neighbourhood marked by intense gentrification and a history of workers’ rights struggles. During its operation from April 2015 to November 2016, Deli Sokolow primarily hired queer, trans, and/or racialized people after actively seeking them out through online community spaces, and subsequently denied them basic rights such as wages, records of employment, and vacation pay. The Committee for the Reclamation of Stolen Wages was established after the owners failed to respond to individual complaints. The Committee represents 19 former employees, accounting for eighty per cent of the deli’s staff. Within a capitalist system, those of us who are women, queer, trans, and racialized already face systemic barriers to employment and bear the brunt of economic exploitation. Given that Deli Sokolow marketed itself as a progressive organization that cared about the livelihood of marginalized peoples, it is particularly notable and outrageous that the owners would take advantage of the workers’ lack of resources and precarious living conditions. We must stand in solidarity with the affected communities and call on the owners to accept their demands while continuing the work of organizing against capitalism as an exploitative system.
According to the Committee’s statement, the deli’s owners consistently took advantage of employees’ vulnerable circumstances. They failed to pay them on time or at all, to provide them with proper paperwork, or to inform them of the deli’s closure – employees were given no prior notice and showed up to work only to find the restaurant’s doors locked. The group tried to contact the owners through mail on two occasions and were met with an inadequate response. Since the publishing of the statement, the deli’s owners have left Facebook comments, reiterating the same excuses, such as having insufficient funds to pay them. Meanwhile the crux of the collective’s demands remain unaddressed, and the workers continue to suffer the consequences, including the inability to fill out their Employment Insurance applications.
This instance of stolen wages must be grounded in the particular context of St. Henri. For more than a decade now, the historically low income neighbourhood has seen drastic change through increasing gentrification from skyrocketing rent and the influx of students, as seen through McGill’s acquisition of Solin Hall, which contributes to the rising demand for luxury businesses such as cafes and boutiques, which locals cannot afford. With these changes came precarious jobs that not only have nothing to do with economic development and stability but are also inevitably exploitative.
In the case of Deli Sokolow, although employees were routinely mistreated, many of them couldn’t leave because they had no other alternative. As queer, trans, and racialized people, they were already facing employment discrimination, had little to no savings, and lacked access to stable employment and other resources, as The Daily was told in an interview with members of the collective. As such, we must support the former workers of Deli Sokolow and their bargaining effort by sharing their statement widely on social media and within our own communities.The collective is also currently looking for translators, and you can follow them on their Facebook page (@WageReclamationCommittee) for any updates.