This post has been updated with comments from one of the involved CTB workers. 

ITHACA, N.Y. –– The weekly Sunday rallies, which have focused on racial justice and police reform, turned their attentions away from the Ithaca Police Department this Sunday, and instead joined Collegetown Bagels (CTB) employees in asking the company to increase their COVID-19 safety protocols.

Last week, CTB workers delivered a list of conditions they want management to implement going forward while the coronavirus pandemic continues, including hazard pay; closure of indoor dining until a vaccine is widely available; a comprehensive protocol in case an employee tests positive; more physical barriers in each location; and assigning a rotation of workers to oversee COVID compliance responsibilities.

The list of demands can be read in full here.

On Sunday, protesters took the action another step further, showing up to the downtown location and demanding to speak face to face with the owners. According to protest leadership, CTB workers held a virtual meeting via Zoom Friday which they asked management to attend. Management ultimately declined to participate in the virtual gathering.

“You wouldn’t talk to your workers on Friday when they asked you to just treat them like human beings,” Ray, a member of the protest group the Ithaca Pantheras, said. “So we are here to talk to you because you won’t talk to us.”

Not only is Ray a key figure in the local racial justice movement, but also a former employee at CTB. It is unclear how many others in attendance Sunday have or currently work for CTB.

During the gathering of around 20 protesters chanting slogans like “Time’s up CTB” and “Hey Gregar, time to pay your workers,” owners of the restaurant Mimi Mehaffey and Gregar Brous came out to address the crowd.

The discourse between the protesters and the CTB owners was contentious, with the collective half-yelling accusations of mistreatment at times.

Mehaffey took the lead in addressing the claims of malfeasance, saying “I’m trying to keep everybody safe.”

She continued, saying that CTB has made their coronavirus protocol decisions based off New York State guidance, including the allowance of indoor dining, and that she believes the company has done what they can to ensure proper mask wearing and social distancing.

Mehaffey additionally disputed claims that CTB has made a significant profit during the pandemic from government stimulus.

“Not one penny went to anything else but salary,” she said.

The group took to asking why management refused to meet with a worker’s collective via Zoom.

“Zoom is anonymous. I want to know who I’m talking to,” she replied.

CTB says that they have given workers an opportunity to address any complaints they may have in one on one meetings with management. Protesters raised the point that individuals with complaints may not feel comfortable airing their grievances when alone with their employer.

“That would be like having somebody talk to their abuser, people don’t like doing that,” one protester, Meek, said.

When asked to further comment on the situation outside the restaurant Sunday, Mehaffey declined. However, CTB has sent out a press release in the days following that states they will make change to the workplace as soon as this week.

“In our ongoing effort to not only be the safest workplace we can be while attempting to operate in and survive the pandemic, while simultaneously listening to our valued employees with respect to what makes them feel safe, we have decided to adopt the following in response to the specific demands of the Concerned Workers of Collegetown Bagels and Ithaca Bakery,” the release states.

Below are the changes CTB will institute:

  • We will institute a wage change next week that fits the guidelines of the Tompkins County Living Wage Coalition and will immediately apply for certification, which we expect to receive in January. This change will be ongoing and enduring ensuring a fair and living wage to every employee now and into the future.
  • We will immediately close indoor dining at all of the stores out of an abundance of caution and concern effective Tuesday December 15th.
  • We will continue to vigorously enforce our Covid response plan (copy attached), a plan which goes beyond the mandates of the state and county health department, which continues to be reviewed on an everyday basis and amended on an ongoing basis as the best advice and guidance is released.
  • Additional barriers will be constructed on a store by store basis wherever staff feels their safety is being compromised.
  • A minimum of two staff people per location will be assigned the responsibility for adherence to Covid guidelines and procedures at each location so there is coverage every day. It will be a primary responsibility of theirs to be sure policies are followed in addition to the current responsibilities of the management teams.

Moreover, the company said they will have a dedicated employee rest room, temperature checks will be added to the daily attestation and there will now be mandatory employee testing every two weeks for retail employees and that the time for testing will be paid in the form of one half hour that will automatically be added for each test result received. 

CTB says they are now also dedicating employees to be “covid enforcers” at each location that will monitor the testing enforcement and results.

Julia Dreitzer, one of the workers involved in the initial list of demands, said that while the concessions made by CTB are a very encouraging step, their work is not over, particularly as it pertains to hazard pay, and will move on to other topics of concern—most notably about what they say are instances of racism in the workplace, contributing to a troubling overall culture.

“We also want to make it very clear that the pivotal demonstration on Sunday was in specific regard to the injustices done unto people of color, which is the next piece we the workers will be working to rectify, as well as the wage theft that has been identified,” Dreitzer said. “We are long overdue for justice for minority communities in Ithaca, and we hope to hold the company accountable for their constant perpetuation of racism.”

Protesters continue to expand their focus from IPD, and have made plans to target the Department of Social Services as an institution perpetuating unfair treatment of marginalized Ithacans. The weekly Sunday rallies are also set to continue into the winter, though it’s unclear how dropping temperatures may play a role.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com