About a dozen demonstrators from Unidad Latina en Acción protested outside Atticus Bookstore and Cafe on Saturday, accusing the establishment of unfair compensation.
The New Haven-based immigrant-rights organization called for a boycott of the business, citing an “unfair and illegal” severance agreement between Atticus owner Charlie Negaro Jr. and Basilio Santiago, a longtime employee of 11 years. ULA alleges that last year, the business required Santiago to choose between a pay cut and a reduction of hours and benefits. After Santiago objected, he was fired at the end of last year in retaliation by Atticus, ULA organizer John Lugo said.
Saturday’s was one in a series of protests ULA has launched against Atticus in recent months for what they claim is Santiago’s unfair dismissal. But the cafe has denied that Santiago’s firing was unwarranted, calling ULA’s allegations false.
When Santiago requested an explanation for his dismissal, Negaro sent the former employee a letter offering him $1,500 not to speak publicly about his termination, according to Lugo. Santiago did not accept the offer “because that’s an insult,” Lugo said.
“For 11 years, $1,500 is nothing,” Lugo said.
The Nov. 25 severance letter obtained by the News states that Santiago’s employment was terminated Nov. 9, and that he received $600 worth of unused paid time off the next day. In the letter, Negaro offered three weeks of pay — equivalent to $1,500 — to the former employee in exchange for releasing any claims, charges, complaints, other contracts or agreements, and for not initiating legal proceedings.
The letter noted that “confidentiality is the essence of” the agreement. The $1,500 offer extended through the severance letter expired Dec. 15.
In a letter to customers dated June 12, Negaro wrote that the decision to dismiss Santiago was a fair one, adding that in its history, Atticus has “taken the high road with regard to compensation and benefits.”
“The claims being made by [ULA] are inflammatory, untrue, and wholly unwarranted,” Negaro wrote. “We have attempted to engage in a thoughtful dialogue with this group, but our efforts have been rebuffed and cynically manipulated.”
On Monday, Negaro declined to comment on the incident beyond that letter, adding that the company does not discuss details regarding its employees.
This “bribe,” according to Lugo, was inadequate and unequal to good faith severance pay, which ULA says is typically calculated as a week’s pay multiplied by the number of years worked. ULA is calling for Santiago to receive at least $5,500, plus benefits such as health and dental care, from his former employer.
Connecticut has no law which requires employers to provide employees with severance pay.
“Atticus must respect workers’ rights, including the right to organize and negotiate wages and benefits,” reads a description of the protest event hosted by ULA on Facebook. “If they don’t, business as usual cannot continue.”
A press release by ULA also claims that Atticus has hired a human resources company to cut wages and benefits to workers at Atticus and Chabaso Bakery, adding that the company is “retaliating against the workers who speak out.”
“We don’t understand where that claim is going,” Negaro told the News. “There is no basis for that whatsoever — completely untrue and fabricated.”
Negaro declined to further expand on the establishment’s HR practices.