Last week, Eater reported that Saint-Henri Jewish deli and ice cream counter Déli Sokolow, known for its latke poutines, had closed. It didn’t last two years (not uncommon for restaurants in Montreal), but while most defunct restaurants would just fade into memory at this stage, Sokolow — or more precisely, its staff — will not go quietly.
Last Friday, a group of Sokolow’s ex-employees set up a vague-sounding Facebook page, the Committee for the Reclamation of Stolen Wages. A quick glance at the page’s main picture eliminates any ambiguity: it reads, in all caps, “SOKOLOW STOLE OUR WAGES” (a French version also lives on the page).
The centrepiece of the page is a laundry list of allegations against Sokolow’s two owners, Shayne Gryn and Leah Freeman, on behalf of 19 staff (up from 16 when the page was created last week). They claim that Sokolow owes over $6,000 in wages, saying that “employees have repeatedly faced outright unpaid wages, unpaid annual leave pay, bounced checks and associated fees, repeated delays in receiving our pay (of up to 1.5 weeks), and not being given Records of Employment.” The pay includes both final paycheques from when the restaurant closed and other unpaid wages from earlier on. That’s accompanied by complaints about the way the owners dealt with staff on a personal level.
The Sokolow employees’ demands are three-fold: for pay, documentation (T4s and the like), and a public apology after those are all received.
Part of the problem is that Sokolow closed suddenly — employees found the doors locked and the restaurant closed back in November. They say they have been trying to use channels such as the Quebec government’s normes du travail office to get their money (Eater is confirming this), as well as approaching the owners privately, suggesting that the public shaming campaign is something of a last resort.
But there’s a complication — the owners say they’re filing for bankruptcy, meaning that money may not be there. However, government documents confirm no bankruptcy filing has been submitted yet. A comment from Gryn on the page elaborates on what led to the mess.
“When an essential utility was cut on November 21st 2016, we did not have enough funds to pay the balance owed, and were unsuccessful in our attempts to gain additional loans to cover it.”
Gryn goes on to say that the documents demanded are being put together, and that staff affected will be able to make claims through the federal government’s Wage Earner Protection Program, although it’s not clear if that program would cover anything earlier than the employees’ final paycheques.
One ex-employee wrote an angry response to Gryn’s explanation, suggesting that even if Sokolow’s owners have no money, they could still offer the documents that they’re legally required to provide, which would also allow staff to claim employment insurance (EI).
“I'm going to be homeless if this isn't taken care of. My husband, my dog, all of our belongings....gone. All I needed was my EI.”
Eater approached Gryn for comment, and was directed to his comment on the Committee for the Reclamation of Stolen Wages’ Facebook page (below), adding that “We're taking the necessary steps to ensure that all the staff are compensated for what they are owed.”
Eater periodically receives tips from individual restaurant and bar employees about these sorts of pay issues, especially after restaurants shutter — but a coordinated social media campaign like this is a whole new realm. If Sokolow is indeed bankrupt (which isn’t clear as they haven’t filed for it yet), it may not help the staff get their money — but it could give other hospitality staff ideas for strategies if the same thing repeats itself elsewhere.