Here is a story about some working conditions me and my colleagues had to experience during our time of working in a vegan fast food restaurant, YoYoFoodworld, in Berlin Friedrichshain. This restaurant is hiding behind the mask of veganism, attracting people in society that want to avoid places that are commercial, capitalistic, exploitative, and not environmentally concerned. In the shop there are posters hanging on the wall for upcoming concerts and events from Berlin’s left wing and alternative scene. I soon came to see that this place was nothing like it seems.
My boss, who is also the owner of the shop, made it clear to me after some time of working there that workers should obey their boss’ wishes without further questions. He told me that “we aren’t a collective”, nobody is allowed to question authority, and meetings are prohibited. The boss never has individual talks with his workers unless it’s necessary or if the workers themselves feel the need to mention something. Yet no one dares to say anything about the working conditions for fear of losing their job.Everyone who starts working in the shop starts out working on probation. How long the probation time runs is often uncertain. Wages are under minimum wage until you prove yourself as a worthy employee. Not only does the boss save money on paying his workers a low salary, he also saves money by bad working contracts, meaning that he doesn’t have to pay any extra fees or costs for his employees, such as taxes, insurance or pension. The shop is open every day of the year, and the boss forces his workers to work without any extra payment on days like 1st of May, New Year’s Eve or Christmas. The working contracts are different from worker to worker, and he likes to make certain workers feel special by giving them a slightly higher salary and other benefits.Work in this place is really tough, physical work. There are always two people less than needed for the given work load, putting a lot of stress and pressure on the workers. The boss often orders one of the workers to leave earlier so that he doesn’t have to pay for two.
There a no scheduled breaks since there’s often no time to even take a break. This is something the workers worked out amongst themselves, but it’s often just a question of a five minute break for a smoke or a quick bite to eat.The boss likes to have someone from the staff that he bullies, and he often fires people based on his dislike for them. In my case he knew that I was going to cut down on shifts because I often complained about the conditions to him. I had told him that from the end of the summer I wanted to work less. A few weeks later he sent me a text message about my upcoming shift, telling me I wasn’t needed at work that day. I said that it was fine and asked when my next shift was. He then sent me one more text telling me that I never needed to come back to work again. His reason was over a trivial dispute about cooking the week previously. I was fired by SMS without warning. I was shocked but not too surprised, since this is the way my boss fired a lot of workers before. I knew that this is not the correct way to fire someone so I went to the FAU to see what we could do. We went to the workers justice department to bring my case to court, since it became apparent that I was fired illegally. We also gave my boss the chance to make things right and for him to avoid having to go to court. We wrote him a letter with our demands, which basically was for him to fire me on paper and to pay my salary until my working contract ends. He got furious with me and threatened me in text messages. I ignored those threats and waited for a decent answer from my boss on how he wanted to continue this process. Since he didn’t get back to me or the FAU, we decided to pay him a visit on the expiration date of the letter we sent to him. We went together with five comrades from FAU to the shop on a day we knew he would be there, and we explained to my boss why we were there and how the situation currently stood. My boss was at this point of time really angry and couldn’t stick to the topic, but we explained again that if he does everything according to the law there won’t be a court case. He said he would transfer my salary the same day, get my payrolls and give me the notification that I got fired on paper.Two days passed without any action on his behalf, so myself and one other comrade from FAU made a return visit. My boss was now in a calmer mood but he wouldn’t look at me and he refused to discuss the situation. He tried to change the topic a few times, but we repeated that we didn’t come there to talk about what happened the other day. He gave me the papers and three days later the outstanding wages were paid into my account, so I withdrew the court case as promised.The workers at YoYo’s still get treated incredibly badly. According to my now former boss he fired me to set an example, and to scare other employees from questioning his authority. By firing me he tried to show that not even the longtime workers were safe. He continues to run the shop like before. He still insults the staff. Recently, a former colleague decided to quit working for him because of repeated insults that made the place unbearable. This place might be vegan, but has nothing to do with vegan values.