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Activists: Boycott Amelie's over alleged employee abuse, racial bias
Former employees accuse cafe of exploitation
 
Published Saturday, July 11, 2020 2:56 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

PHOTO | ASHLEY MAHONEY
Activists from Charlotte RISE and Feed the Movement CLT held a press conference Saturday in NoDa to demand a boycott of Amelie's Bakery in response of allegations of employee abuse and bias. Protesters later went into the bakery to tip employees – without buying anything.

Charlotte advocates are demanding accountability from Amelie’s French Bakery & Cafe.

Greater Charlotte RISE and Feed the Movement CLT held a press conference Saturday to demand the local eatery franchise address and correct allegations of employee abuse. Protest organizers and supporters went into Amelie’s NoDa shop to tip employees following the press conference, but they did not buy anything.

Amelie’s claimed in early June to have financially supported organizations, including two that held the press conference. However, Greater Charlotte Rise Executive Director Jasmine Sherman said she never heard from the company, nor did they receive financial support. Feed the Movement CLT provides meals to people fighting against racial injustice and socioeconomic disparities.  

Greater Charlotte RISE helps housing insecure Mecklenburg County residents gain access to food, medical supplies, and housing.

“I was shocked to find that Amelie’s posted publicly claiming they were looking forward to working with Greater Charlotte RISE,” Sherman said. “I got no phone call, no email, and I immediately checked with all of my staff, and no one had been notified. We would not have accepted the money from Amelie’s, and this is not me being cavalier. It is needed, because there is a huge housing disparity in Charlotte. We rarely turn down funds because we need them, but Amelie’s record is so bad, and their mistreatment of employees is so awful that we can’t accept any donations from Amelie’s until they clean up their act.”

Amelie’s issued a statement on June 28 saying, “we made a giant mistake and discovered that our introductory message to Greater Charlotte Rise was never delivered on June 6 as we intended.”

Amelie’s had no comment.

For Sherman, whose work often involves helping Charlotte’s homeless, the issues with Amelie’s extended beyond claiming to have assisted Greater Charlotte RISE but for having weaponized Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police against the homeless near their establishments, particularly the NoDa location.

“The abuse and criminalization of those who are houseless is one of the cruelest things that we have done as a society,” Sherman said.

Nada Merghani, founder of Feed the Movement CLT said Amelie’s recently reached out to her organization to set up a meeting, but nothing came of it.

“Amelie’s reached out to us, [and] asked to set a Zoom meeting,” Merghani said. “We agreed to set that Zoom meeting, and they canceled the same day.”

Said Feed the Movement CLT leader Tatiana Marquez: “They want to schedule an in-person meeting, and we have yet to receive a follow-up. They came to us to offer help. We agreed, because we thought that Amelie’s was an ally, only later to find out [and] to go into their [social media] comments and see the amount of stories being told.”

The organizers are calling for a boycott of Amelie’s until the following demands are met:

• Pay all staff a minimum of $15 per hour regardless of position.

• Contract, in coordination with an employee representative, an independent oversight group for employees to anonymously report grievances and seek restitution.

• End mismanagement of overtime, time off, healthcare, sexual assault and verbal abuse reports, and benefits of employees.

• Allow a third party to investigate allegations of wage theft or unsafe work conditions and establish a public policy for how management found culpable will face reprimand up to and including termination.

• Establish a policy for investigations and redress of allegations of wage theft or unsafe work conditions.

• Donate 10% percent of gross profits, split equally, between the seven organizations they misrepresented as partners for seven years and

• Remove co-owner Bill Lamb from any decision-making position for any of the bakeries. 

“Our organization does believe in the idea of restorative justice,” Merghani said. “The Zoom call that we had scheduled with Amelie’s that they canceled was to discuss the action items that we talked about in this press conference today, and how they could implement them so that they can be a safe organization that does take care of their employees, but that canceled that conversation, and we’re still waiting to hear back on whether they accept the terms that we’ve laid out for them.”

Said Sherman: “All we’ve gotten is another email requesting patience while they plan something.”

While Sherman and Merghani are outraged about the claims of corporate philanthropy, they are more concerned about Amelie’s work environment. Over 40 current and former employees have come forward to with complaints of racial discrimination, including co-founder Lamb referring to Black baristas as “the help” to customers in 2018.

Former employees like Saminah Chapman watched whites promoted to leadership roles, including one co-worker who moved up to management after three months.

“I looked up one day and realized I was often the only Black person working up front,” Chapman said. “When it came time to talk about promotions, I was passed on and overlooked for manager on duty positions more than once. I instead watched people I trained get promoted.”

Allegations of employee mistreatment date back 12 years, organizers said, including an open letter of resignation from former production-kitchen manager Justin Miller published six years ago where he depicted an environment where employees were not properly compensated for hours worked. His letter was read again today during the press conference.

“There have been several instances of employees being asked to work off the clock. The most memorable was on December 18, 2013,” Miller wrote. “The dishwasher for the production kitchen had arrived for his shift at 5 p.m. He had been working since we had last seen him around 5 p.m. the previous night. When my coworker and I started asking questions he hesitantly told us that he had worked his shift at the production kitchen, went to the main kitchen, worked third shift dish, and then went to one of the owner’s house and worked off the clock from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. He was so exhausted that he could not keep his balance without propping himself up on something and he was scared to death of losing his job for telling us. I informed the appropriate people of the situation, sent him home and we stayed late to perform his cleaning duties.”

As awareness of economic and racial inequality is galvanizing across America during a pandemic, addressing Amelie’s issues is no exception.

“With everything happening in the world, and COVID-19 cases and everything being shut down, there is time to focus on what’s going on,” former employee Carrington Hardin said. “There is time for the voices that would normally be hushed, they have their opportunity to be heard.”

Comments

I was an employee at Amelie's French Bakery from 2010 until 2015. I tried contacting The Charlotte Observer about my time there after the 2014 open letter, but I never heard back from anyone. If anyone knows about the inside chicanery among the owners and previous owner, I do. There's my email address.
Posted on July 12, 2020
 
I was an MOD at the Atlanta location and Sara and the gang passed over everyone for promotions and raises.
Posted on July 11, 2020
 

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