Seeing Angel Food Bakery claim to work in the interest of Black lives was jarring for Crystal Schmidt. Schmidt alleges that in a 2015 meeting part-owner and founder Cynthia Gerdes explained that her involvement with #BlackLivesMatter protests after the murder of Michael Brown made her “coworkers uncomfortable” even though Schmidt never discussed her involvement with the protests at work. “They were using my posts to my private social media against me because I was foolish and let them into my personal life.” The work environment became progressively worse and Schmidt left a job she loved shortly thereafter.
According to Schmidt, their recent sympathy toward BLM is a reflection of corporate opportunism.
In an emailed response attributed to Cynthia Gerdes and Katy Gerdes to questions related to the allegations, they stated that,
“We vehemently dispute that either company [Angel Food Bakery and Hell’s Kitchen] has ever fired anyone over anything related to BLM. As employers, we’re bound by privacy laws and strictly forbidden from discussing specific employment-related matters.”
Schmidt argues that Angel Food Bakery has a long history of systemic wage theft which runs contrary to their new social justice stance. In a Facebook post corroborated with screenshots of prior communication, Schmidt explained that in early 2015 she learned that her hourly co-worker wasn’t being paid overtime. Instead of paying the worker hourly for wedding delivery/set-up, they were paid a “delivery fee.” Schmidt found that others also received a delivery fee while staying clocked in, receiving additional pay and indicating preferential treatment. In Minnesota, wage theft is now a felony.
Schmidt brought this to the attention of C. Gerdes. “Cynthia told me I was “right” but then she also immediately informed me that I would no longer be a salaried employee and I’d be going back to the hourly pay that I had before going salary. It was a pay cut.”
Subsequently, both the person who wasn’t receiving overtime compensation and Schmidt were put on an involuntary 3-day suspension. The reason was, to quote K. Gerdes, “to think about whether you two really want to work here.” They both decided to return and asked for a meeting “to build this professional relationship moving forward.” Tiffany Blackburn and Schmidt wanted to resolve the issues in a meeting and move forward. They clocked in the morning of the meeting, per C. Gerdes’ direction, and were fired
Screenshots of texts from Schmidt show that K. Gerdes instructed her to clock out for wedding setup and deliveries and that they would be paid the delivery fee separate from their wages.
Screenshots of a message titled “hotschedules 1-3” that was sent by C. Gerdes to the entire staff of Angel Food acknowledging the errors in the delivery fee payment system. Schmidt was specifically named as the person responsible for why the “little perk” stopped.
Cynthia Gerdes and Katy Gerdes deny these claims.
On November 22nd, 2014 Tiffany Blackburn (then Ashmead) was working at Angel Food alongside one other chef. Saturdays were particularly busy with the weekend traffic coming in for breakfast and also sending out the weekend cake orders. It was not uncommon to go a majority of a shift without a chance to sit down and eat. Blackburn had finally gotten a chance to make food for herself so she had sliced up some ham for a sandwich.
While she was handling her knife Blackburn noticed that she was shaky because she hadn’t eaten. As she was finally able to eat, she was slicing ham for a sandwich and,
“the knife slipped and sliced a large portion of my thumb and nail. Not immediately realizing the extent of the wound I went to grab a paper towel to try and stop the bleeding. I quickly started to panic because of the amount of blood. I passed out and when I came to a barista had been standing over me.”
At first nervous and unsure about going to the hospital, she went home. After seven hours Blackburn’s wound didn’t clot so she then went to the hospital and was given a tetanus shot and lidocaine/epinephrine gel to stop the bleeding. The tetanus shot gave her a lot of pain and she texted K. Gerdes that she probably wouldn’t make it to work the following day. At that time her only mode of transportation was a bicycle. Blackburn remembers K Gerdes saying, “Well why don’t you come in tomorrow and if you really don’t feel like you can work we’ll send you home.”
Blackburn recalled, “through tear-filled eyes, I replied with something to the extent of “okay”. I feared arguing with Katy (Gerdes) because it only made her more moody. By the morning I was unable to lift my arms above my chest. The arm I got my tetanus shot in was inflamed and painful to the touch. I took the bus into work for fear of being immediately terminated if I attempted to call in. Once getting to work I tried to continue on like any normal day but the pain in my thumb that radiated up my arm and into my shoulder was too much. I broke down crying and told Katy I had to go home.”
From then on Blackburn continued to receive comments that minimized the extent of her injury.
Blackburn lost all sensation in the tip of her thumb for almost 18 months. It affected her ability to frost cakes and lift heavy objects. “I never felt like my injury and pain were ever taken seriously not just by Katy but by the rest of my coworkers.”
In response, the Gerdes’ stated that, “Whenever someone is hurt on the job, we report it
to our insurance company, which then notifies the proper authorities (including OSHA) to the extent required.” They claim that since the 2014 incident did not require hospitalization it was not reported. Blackburn remembers the Gerdes’ offering to cover the ER visit but Blackburn would later find after she was eventually fired, that her health insurance covered the visit..
Schmidt and Blackburn are speaking out because they want consumers to be aware of their choices. While they recognize that small businesses need to be supported, they also believe it is morally dubious to proclaim #BLM when past practice suggests otherwise. For them a better tomorrow starts with better practices now, not promises to improve.