Former employees who helped open the new Farmstead Market in Murrieta have been picketing outside the store since last week and said Wednesday that they plan to continue.
The employees, who are not affiliated with a labor union, claim their work environment began to go downhill when a new general manager, David Vered, was hired shortly after the store opened in October 2012. They say that under the direction of Vered, the market is violating labor laws, harassing employees and maintaining a hostile work environment.
Eight protesters, including the daughter of one of the employees, held signs Wednesday afternoon on the sidewalk in front of the market at Kalmia Street and Jefferson Avenue. Some customers stopped to ask why they were picketing.
“There are just a lot of people who he (Vered) did wrong by,” said Mary Reagan, who said she was among six people terminated last week.
“The problem is the manager, not the owners. He came in and cut a lot of people’s hours—who were full time—to 10, 15, 20 a week unfairly without any notice and then wouldn’t allow anybody to have a second job,” said Reagan, who worked as the scan coordinator, making sure prices came up correctly when scanned.
Tony Smitley, who first worked as the IT administrator and then took on other positions including manager on-duty, said he was also terminated last week.
Reagan and Smitley have both received their final paychecks, but said there are others who have not and were simply told to “stay away.”
This, they claim, followed several incidents in which employees' names would be on the schedule with no hours listed next to them. There were also instances in which time cards were allegedly changed, they claim.
“It was just the inhumane way it was done,” Reagan said.
“What we would like is...we want the store back,” she said. “Everyone here helped them set up this store. Everybody here opened boxes and put shelves together and put tags on...we did everything. We want this guy gone and to get our store back.”
Vered did not respond to an emailed request for comment Wednesday about the ongoing protest.
However, the president of The Farmstead Market, Craig Schleuniger, emailed the following statement to Patch:
“We are saddened by the need to write this statement today in regard to the picketing that has taken place in front of our store by prior employees,” Schleuniger wrote.
“Upon opening a new business in Murrieta a few months ago, we experienced an unforeseen loss of our general manager. In an effort to streamline our new business we were forced to lay off some staff members as well as to quickly hire a new general manager. Our new GM came with a long history of grocery store management.
“The Farmstead Market has confidence that he has the proven capability to which we are certain, will within the months to come, allow us to re-hire new staff members as our business grows. We appreciate the support from the community and look forward to being of service for many years to come.”
Holding signs calling the manager “a bully,” the former employees told Patch they will continue to protest for a few hours each day. They encouraged customers to stop shopping “at The Farmstead Market until they clean up their act.”
Some customers turned away from the store Wednesday after speaking with the former employees, while others continued on to shop.