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The Daily Tar Heel

Acme workers end strike, many leave restaurant after three months of protests

A former ACME worker speaks out on past experiences with the owner of ACME during the strike on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022.

After nearly three months, Acme Food & Beverage Company workers ended their strike on Feb. 17 — and most of them are vacating their positions at the restaurant.

The strike began on Nov. 26 to protest unfair labor practices, including abuse of power and sexual misconduct by owner Kevin Callaghan. 

Madison Burns, who had been a server at Acme since May and served as a spokesperson for the workers, said she believes the strike was successful. 

In a statement on Instagram, former Acme strikers said they were able to achieve robust anti-harassment policies and training for staff.

“We are proud to leave some level of protection for people that might work there in the future,” Burns said.

However, the former strikers also said they were uncomfortable with the restaurant’s response to their demands for accountability, which led most of them to vacate their positions and redirect their work toward more broad change for workers.

According to the Instagram statement, the former strikers said they felt the restaurant was more concerned with its public image than its employees' well-being.

In an email statement to The Daily Tar Heel, Callaghan said Acme appreciates "the learning that this event has brought" and that it is excited to open its dining room once again.

Callaghan said in a recent statement posted on the Acme website that he feels responsible for creating a safe and comfortable work environment as an employer.

“I recognize that by falling short of these responsibilities, I have not only let my employees down, but I have let you down as well,” he said.

Burns said the workers received a confidential apology from Callaghan, but said the apology demonstrated a lack of accountability. Acme’s management wanted Callaghan back in the restaurant 30 days after reopening, she said.

“None of us really felt comfortable going back to the workplace with the level of accountability — and honestly, contempt — that was demonstrated to us throughout the negotiation process,” she said.

Looking ahead

During the strike, Burns said the biggest challenges were the monetary losses and the time commitment, especially due to challenges posed by COVID-19. The workers on strike raised over $7,500 through a GoFundMe.

“We asked for support from the community just because giving up your job, especially during a pandemic, was difficult,” she said.

A strike victory rally was held at the Carrboro Town Commons on Sunday in solidarity with the former Acme workers and others who have experienced harassment at work.

“We feel we owe the community sort of a conclusion,” Burns said. 

There was a worker speak-out at the rally, where former Acme workers discussed why the strike ended.

Carrboro Town Council member Danny Nowell attended the rally. In an interview with the DTH prior to the rally, he said he would speak to Carrboro workers about organizing and creating workplaces that reflect Carrboro’s values and “progressive spirit.”

“I truly hope to help with strategy, fundraising, coalition building and support for any kind of organization that workers are able to put in town,” he said. 

Information about a new coalition for workers in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, which will aim to help employees develop strategies for safe workspaces and economic justice, was available at the rally.

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The new coalition will have its first meeting on March 13.


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