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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: San Francisco | Labor & Workers
SF Solidarity Serves a Taste of Justice, Met with Hostility
SF Solidarity, a nascent group defending non-unionized employees' rights, delivered a letter to an unfair business owner demanding he pay $400 in wages owed to a former employee, and the owner attacked someone.
On a typical Sunday evening in the Tenderloin, business-owner Leslie Cowan serves hard drinks and light entertainment to his customers at Café Royale, located near the corner of Leavenworth and Post.
But on August 7, the roles of patron and patronized switched. At around 9 p.m. a party of 12 showed up under the name of SF Solidarity and it was Cowan himself who got served.
Beneath the café’s dim lighting and gently sprinkled jazz atmosphere, Cowan was served a bill for $400, an amount which he owes to former employee, Emelia Loomis, in unpaid wages.
With the support of ten members of SF Solidarity and her husband behind her, Loomis handed a letter to Cowan warning him that if he failed to pay her rightful earnings in one week, a campaign would be launched against his dubious business.
“It’s really nice to have this whole support group behind me,” Loomis said. “I feel good about this letter because it has a consequence.”
After a peaceful delivery, as everyone was leaving, Cowan exposed his oppressiveness. Rather than experiencing Cowan’s instability vicariously through Loomis’s situation, SF Solidarity saw it face to face.
When Loomis’s husband, Mumbles, began to announce to customers the injustice behind the café’s fashionable façade, Cowan erupted in rage.
Cowan assaulted Mumbles, grabbing him and violently jolting him toward the door. Mumbles hadn’t touched or threatened Cowan in any way. Cowan yelled, “Get out! Get out!” and continued to shove other members of SF Solidarity whom he had never before seen.
His explosion drastically interrupted the café’s tranquil atmosphere and customers were left with puzzled expressions, wondering what kind of business they were in.
“To see him react that way shows he’s terrified of people standing up to him,” Loomis said.
It was ironic for Cowan to act out violently toward someone he owes money to. In most cases, doesn’t it happen the other way around?
“I’ve been watching the effects that his disrespect has had on my wife for a few months,” Mumbles said. “I’m glad that the campaign is wearing on him.”
The need to confront Cowan came up after Loomis had curated art shows at Café Royale in April and May. She was forced to walk away from the project when Cowan proved to be untrustworthy.
While in his possession, a $300 painting went missing, which Cowan also refuses to pay for, neglecting his responsibility as owner of the venue.
Loomis then decided to stop curating before more art disappeared, but what was left of Cowan’s decency vanished next.
Adding insult to injury, Cowan now refuses to pay Loomis for bringing people and profit to his café, even after misplacing something of high value.
Since their falling out, Loomis has pressured Cowan to keep his promise. She created a comic depicting her plight and passed them out at one of the café’s art shows.
But Cowan’s negligence has encouraged her to seek support from a broader network.
If Cowan does not reimburse Loomis by August 14, SF Solidarity will begin picketing Café Royale and distributing informative fliers to customers until justice is served.
“So many people are precarious workers in this economy and are being exploited without the chance of being represented by a union,” said Katie, who attended Sunday’s action and is apart of the East Bay Solidarity network.
“I see myself as being in that boat and would love to see a group of people have my back if my boss is screwing me over. We should have an organization that fights back.”