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Barista union organizer wins fight against Second Cup 

Nova Scotia Labour Board rules that Kathy Attis improperly fired Ellen Graham.

Union supporters protest outside the Quinpool Road Second Cup.
  • Union supporters protest outside the Quinpool Road Second Cup.

Second Cup franchise owner Kathy Attis was in the wrong when she fired a barista last spring, the Nova Scotia Labour Board ruled last month. Attis expressed anti-union sentiment to her employees prior to a union vote and didn’t have a good reason to fire Ellen Graham the day before the vote, the board’s decision said. Prior to the vote, Attis sent employees a letter that said she was not in favour of unionization, but they were free to vote as they wished.

The three-member board unanimously concluded the employer discriminated against the barista, contrary to the Trade Union Act, and ordered Attis to pay Graham $420, minus statutory deductions. The decision meant Graham’s ballot was counted in the Quinpool Road cafe’s June 5 union vote. The employees voted in favour of unionizing.

Graham declined to comment for this story, as did union organizer Sebastien Labelle. Since the ruling is only partial, Labelle said the Service Employees International Union would refrain from commenting at this time. The labour board is expected to rule once more on whether Attis was in the wrong when she cut employees’ hours and fired two other baristas following the vote.

Labelle did say the SEIU is negotiating a collective agreement with Attis, who also owns a franchise Second Cup at the Halifax Shopping Centre. The store owner declined to comment for this story.

At the labour board hearing in August, Attis testified she became a “disciplinarian,” cutting employees’ hours and firing the three baristas to maintain order at the cafe. She said when the employees decided to unionize they acted as if they were entitled to run the store. The board could have ordered the franchise owner to reinstate Graham but didn’t due to the short period of time the barista was employed.

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