We did it!
First campaign, first win. What a fight it was! We won the stolen and misappropriated wages. This victory is our first union action win. A new era in horeca dawns.
First off, we’re using aliases for our opponent. Our members had to sign a declaration of silence when we signed the deal. We promised to no longer say nasty things about the boss or the businesses in question. So, for narratives’ sake and to protect his privacy, let’s call him ‘Richboy’. This is your typical horeca boss, some guy from a rich family who went to a fancy horeca college and then opened up a bunch of bland, soulless cafes. Pays his workers as little as possible, fools his customers by cutting costs wherever possible and charging high prices. That way, he can live a life of luxury in a giant Amsterdam canal house.
So who is to say then which boss in particular we we’re describing? It could be about any of them!
After Richboy didn’t renew the contracts of two of his workers, Tanya and Lisa, they found out they didn’t get paid enough salary too. On top of that, didn’t receive severance pay, even after asking Richboy for it.
They were working in two of his establishments we will call ‘Salty Pig Cafe’ and ‘Bar Nakkie’. Like everyone else, Lisa and Tanya were suffering from and complaining about working there: understaffed, underpaid, no breaks. The kind of kitchens where you’re kind of fucked when you’re alone: huge all-day menu, no prep time and of course no dishwasher. People get stressed out and quit all the time. It makes sense that many of Richboy’s ex-employees are (founding) members of Horeca United.
The stuff people put up with in Horeca!
In horeca what us workers face are all facets of one problem: complete lack of respect. The issues are just too many to recount. In all of these long and many years that I’ve been in horeca I’ve also tried to take a stand by myself sometimes. I found zero result but trouble. These manipulative bosses, they’re so crafty. And the job I need to survive, is always under threat, especially when they think you’re ‘troublesome’. So in the end I swallowed it, soldiered on. The powerlessness made me a less pleasant, angrier person.
I’d worked hard years for mr. Richyboy, both in his ‘Salty Pig Cafe’ and ‘Bar Nakkie’. After I broke my back during work, I was sick for some time. Richyboy disliked that. Later early 2020 I developed lung issues and was coughing my insides out. Hospital in and out, doctors told me I’m too sick to work for now so I called in sick again. Got diagnosed with covid. But Richyboy called me a liar, and tried to force me back to work. He made other colleagues go to work while sick & tested positive. My contract didn’t get renewed. A while later, they wanted me back, since they were busy again. I worked there for another year, around the same time as Lisa.
We decided to demand the severance pay through the union, but as we looked into it, we found out he owed us even more. Lisa was hired as a head chef, but her salary didn’t match the amount in the CAO Horeca (collective labour agreement). I had been hired as an ‘unskilled’ worker on minimum wage, while I have decades of experience. I was working by myself more often than not. Even after I signed new contract with a significant raise, Richboy didn’t increase my salary. The bastard had been underpaying me for years. We decided to take action. We had just formed a small group, but everyone involved was on fire.
How did we do it?
A couple of us delivered two letters with our demands. Richboy agreed to speak to us on the phone, but he refused to pay. We held a little picket, just a couple of people with a banner in front of one of the terraces. It made Richboy nervous, so he agreed to negotiate face to face. Unfortunately, he was stubborn. We organised more pickets, the last two of them simoutaniously at two different restaurants. We increased the duration and amount of people participating, brought megaphones, flyers and more banners. There was lots of solidarity, not only from our own members. We got support from Het Actiefonds, Vloerwerk, the Dutch branch of IWW and the Anarchist Group Amsterdam. Many more groups shared our updates on Instagram and cheered us on. Our stickers were posted around Richboy’s restaurants and his fancy canal house.
Short, but intense pickets in front of terraces in the middle of summer proofed to be highly effective. We ruined lots of lunches, but most guests seemed understanding. I doubt they come back to ‘Salty Pig Cafe’ or ‘’Bar Nakkie’ anytime soon. Managers were not too amused, and called Richboy immediately. Early in the campaign, Richboy agreed to pay the full sum to myself (around 1800€ bruto), but he wasn’t willing to pay Tanya as much as we demanded. He went up a each time we did an action, so we simply did more actions. We wanted more than just a symbolic amount.
Richboy himself was never there when we did a picket. He did send an angry email every time, threatening us to stop negotiations and having us go to court instead. He claimed to have ‘reported’ me to the authorities and called the cops to our last picket, hoping they would stop us. It only made the picket last longer. After a half-hour long discussion with one of us, the cops left and everyone was free to go.
At some point after our last action, Richboy called me and begged us to ‘meet him in the middle’. After discussing this with Tanya and the rest of the group, we agreed to settle on 4500€ bruto.
A whole back-and-forth of emails followed. Richboy wanted us to sign agreements, and made the whole proces take unneccessarily long. He even ‘forgot’ to pay in time… Oh well. It’s over, and we won!
Winning this campaign was only the beginning. Our actions are proof of the power we have when we take a stand together. We’re here to overthrow the toxic inbalance of power that has been putting horeca workers down.
Does your boss give you a hard time? Do they refuse to pay you the hours you work? Do they ignore your requests for days off, or harass you to come to work when you’re sick? Your (ex)boss might be next!