From the Montreal IWW
In addition to our organizing campaigns, the Montreal IWW also organizes Claim Your Pay campaigns, where our members help workers who have been robbed of their wage after being fired. These campaigns mostly happen in the restaurant business and involve a few hundred dollars. When a worker came into contact with us about some unpaid wages in a restaurant that had just closed, we were not expecting such an important case.
Currently, the Montreal IWW is on a huge Claim Your Pay case: more than $20,000 in unpaid wages and tips and 11 people remain unpaid since at least December, more for some. Some of the workers were unable to pay their rent, others had to ask for help from food banks or had accumulated debt because of bounced cheques from the bosses. All of these people worked at the M.Mme wine bar located at 244 Laurier West in Montreal, which closed suddenly on January 26th.
The bosses and what happened:
The owners are John Hovannes Kalanjian, Asbed (or Aspid) Istanboulian and Sevan Istanboulian. The last two are also owners of Café Mystique, a distributor of coffee products around the world and present in several stores in Quebec. They also own the Toi, moi & café coffee chain, which is trying to set up shop in several subway stations in Montreal. Based on the workers’ testimonies, we would like to tell you more about how Asbed works with his employees. Asbed was the most present boss of the two brothers at the M.Mme and Toi, moi & café nearby.
As these two businesses share a back hall connecting them, it was easy for employees to learn more about the bad habits of Asbed Istanboulian: other stories of wage theft, tip theft, late pay cheques and bounced cheques… Asbed would also take advantage of the precarious working conditions of migrants by underpaying or simply not paying them.
In addition, Asbed Istanboulian has a history of negligence in the management of his businesses. In order to save on health-related costs, he preferred to use cheap mouse traps instead of using an exterminator, which is not in compliance with regulations. Employees and clients would end up hearing the dying mice. He sometimes did not pay suppliers and bills which meant several bailiffs even came to the restaurant. The inability of employees to reach him meant they did not have the necessary means to run the restaurant smoothly. He, for example, neglected to place orders at important moments of the restaurant (such as high booking times and office parties). He was also used to accusing employees of being the cause of the restaurant’s financial problems.
It is not the first time Asbed Istanboulian steals wages. We found out that a former team member of the M.Mme restaurant had filed complaints. We found a 4-year old testimony on the Toi, moi & café on Laurier’s Facebook page stating that a worker had their wages stolen. We also learned that other employees of Toi, moi & café had not been paid.
The present situation:
The union has already taken action against the owners of the M.Mme. Two out of 11 workers were paid! The kicker? We also learned that Asbed is off on a trip to the South for the week! The happiness of the few is evidently at the cost of the misery of the many. The union does not intend to let the boss get away with it.
To conclude, know that the Mystique Coffe, owned by Asbed Istanboulian, prides itself on being the largest fair trade coffee distributor in Canada, while it is not at all equitable with its employees. Also know that he and his partners are planning to open 26 new Toi, moi & cafés in metro stations and at the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital. We urge you to boycott Toi, moi & café and Mystique Coffe products and to denounce the actions – especially wage and tip thefts – of the owners on the businesses’ Facebook pages and other promotional sites.
We are appealing to everyone: if you too have worked for Asbed Istanboulian in the past – at Toi, moi & Café, at the restaurant M.Mme or another one – and you have been the victim of wage theft, contact the Montreal IWW. We offer you our solidarity and are ready to help you.
An injury to one is an injury to all!