Steel City Solidarity Wins Against Rokbar Wage Thieves!
By: Morine R.
Sarah was hired by Rokbar management to serve in their club on Hess St. in Hamilton’s downtown. Sarah worked her shifts over late nights and often until early mornings. But Rokbar was experiencing some problems – it become apparent that management had some difficulties organizing their finances. And of course, the employees paid the price.
Rokbar stopped paying Sarah the full wages she was owed. When they did pay, their cheques bounced, or only portions of her earnings were given to her, with promises of more to come at a later time; money which never made it into Sarah’s pocket. To add insult to injury, Rokbar held mandatory meetings which all employees were expected to attend, yet they were not paid for their time, and some owners even failed to show up! Management also refused to pay workers for the entire time they spent closing as workers worked until 3:30am but were only paid until 2:30am. At the end of the night, Sarah then had to hand over a portion of her tips to management – so effectively they made money off her while also failing to pay her wages! In the end, Sarah was owed $2700 by Rokbar.
Unpaid wages were only part of the abusive practices of Rokbar experienced by employees. Sarah was asked by management to spy on other workers, and she was threatened with termination if too many mistakes were made while using management’s dodgy systems. Operating under the table, they also refused to provide any documentation of employment records or deductions for EI, etc as required by the Employment Standards Act. Sarah tried several times to raise concerns, demand her wages and resist Rokbar’s abuse. When Sarah took action, she was given even worse shifts and management retaliated against her. So frustrated, she finally quit – but it didn’t stop there…. Rokbar owners found her new place of work and often frequented it as ‘customers’ and continued to badger Sarah while she was working at her new job.
It was then that Sarah contacted Steel City Solidarity, and together we launched a campaign against Rokbar demanding that her stolen wages be paid. Late on a Saturday night, amongst an increasingly rowdier Hess St. crowd, we publically delivered a demand letter to the Rokbar management. With the support of over 30 members of the action squad, her parents, and the aid of a loud megaphone, Sarah read out the injustices Rokbar had committed against her for all the pub crawlers and clubbing patrons to hear. We all waited. When our deadline for response had passed, we again planned to gather together and rally outside of Rokbar. We had our chants and signs saying “Hey Crokbar! Pay Sarah!” ready. Just as we were about to begin, one of the owners made a deal with Sarah to pay her wages back in weekly instalments. Not fully convinced that payments would be made, we marched by Rokbar cheering just for good measure – so that they knew that another crowd of supporters could be easily mobilized for Sarah should they be needed.
We stayed ready to hold rallies and information pickets, and had devised plans to dissuade people from going into Rokbar so that we could hurt their bottom line and publically shame them. Yet, it seems we have had enough impact with just the two actions described, because Sarah has been paid out almost all of her wages, with only $250 to go! And it gets better: another worker has also been paid the $300 she was owed! I guess Rokbar didn’t want to wait for more rallies outside the club before they started paying her too! Amazing how a little collective pressure goes a long way!
It’s great that Sarah and her former co-worker have finally been paid back their stolen wages! And it’s great for Steel City Solidarity that we are 5 for 5 – wining all of the workers’ cases we have taken on. But, it is even better to see a whole community of workers developing a solidarity network. It is an amazing thing to see a worker emboldened to stand up against the power of their bosses because they know that 30 or more other workers are there ready to make demands with them, carry out direct action with them, and keep fighting with them until we win! For Steel City Solidarity, it is not just the individual victories that matter, but the broad based tangible solidarity amongst workers that we are building.
Info about Steel City Solidarity:
Steel City Solidarity is a workers solidarity network for precarious workers in Hamilton. Established as a working group of CUPE 3906, we are composed of precarious workers, labour and community activists from across the city. If you want to know more about how SCS organizes and why precarious workers are building a movement visit www.steelcitysolidarity.com.