What Happened At Strange City?
This blog has been created to keep everyone up to date with the recent labour dispute with Strange City, the reputable and well-known piercing and tattoo studio in Edmonton, AB. Clients, friends, and associates have been curious about the details so we wanted to let everyone know the current situation, and why the former staff are fighting so hard to have their story known.
The back story:
On March 12, 2013, Strange City’s bank accounts were frozen by Revenue Canada.
The entire staff of nine people were informed of the situation, and felt that they would no longer be getting paid with frozen bank accounts. While the owner, Richard Blaskievich, insisted that he only owed $35 000, he could produce no proof of this after a meeting with Revenue Canada and was unable to prove that they would, indeed be getting paid. After a history of bouncing paycheques, changing the business name on paper every few years, and even on a few occasions going so far as to change the staff’s taxes on paper so he would have to pay the staff less on payday on a few occasions, the staff knew that working with frozen accounts was no longer an option.
At this point, Richard and his wife told the staff that since he could not prove that they would be getting paid or that $35 000 was, indeed, all that he owed, nor that the bank account would be unfrozen any time soon, they told the staff that they would be laid off. At this point, every one of the 9 staff member of Strange City walked out the door with all of their possessions, with the assurance that they would be getting laid off.
To reiterate, Richard had fully admitted that the bank accounts were frozen by Revenue Canada to a room full of staff members, could provide no proof that the amount he said he was being frozen for was the amount he claimed, and said the entire staff would be laid off.
Things went from bad to worse:
Within a few hours, the locks to the business had been changed. Within two days, the staff learned that Richard had hired a new piercer. Although the piercer was informed of the situation, i.e. that the entire staff were laid off and that he was being hired to replace them, he chose to replace them anyway. Since then, multiple counter staff have been hired, many of whom have never worked in a studio before. Again, all of this with a frozen bank account.
Strange City re-opened for business within a few days with:
- one piercer who chose money and title over his fellow piercers
- no tattooers
- counter staff who have never worked in a studio before
Within this time-frame, Richard and his step-daughter, Vicki Perrault, began sending threatening texts and emails to former staff (don’t worry- these texts and emails have all been saved!). These messages said that they would not be receiving their Records Of Employment to collect E.I. until Richard had access to a particular social media site in the Strange City name. The staff obliged, and the former staff were then met with a longer list of demands without keeping up their end. Of course, it is completely illegal to withhold Records Of Employment, but they held them for ransom anyway.
And then things got even worse:
Upon realizing that their Records Of Employment were being held for ransom, the former staff of Strange City stopped responding to Richard and Vicki’s texts and emails.
Concerned former clients began calling Strange City to demand that the former staff be served their documents, and Richard responded by filling out ROEs to be picked up by the staff.
Richard issued the ROEs and the former manager, Sarai, picked them up from the studio. Upon opening them, she saw that Richard had filled in the code for “quit” on the ROEs.
Since then, Richard has denied that he ever told the staff they would be laid off. Although two staff members have saved text messages of him asking which code they need on their ROEs, and although he and his wife told a room full of employees that they would all be laid off, he filled them out inaccurately so that he would not owe severance. Consequently, collecting E.I. is very difficult, achievable only through a lengthy and demeaning process that may not even end in the applicant’s favour.
Richard filled out the ROEs so the staff could not be laid off.
This is illegal, and morally reprehensible.
Richard has claimed on multiple occasions that he fired the former staff, and stated on other occasions that the entire staff quit. He has refused to issue 2013 T4s to the former staff, although they are concerned about the likelihood of being able to collect them in the future. He has threatened to sue concerned clients who have called the studio to ask about the former staff’s documents. Once again, the staff were effectively laid off when they left Strange City in late March, and Richard changed his mind after the fact, and this is not legal. Period.
While all of this has been reported to the proper authorities, investigations are not immediate and the former staff in the meantime are having their reputations sullied by a man who has no contribution to the industry other than owning a studio; who has done nothing for the studio to give it the name that you know and love; who would rather fudge ROEs and deny T4s than pay the staff who have given years of their lives to operating and loving that business, through thick and thin.
The Bottom Line:
The former staff of Strange City have effectively run that business for the past many years. Through a history of bounced cheques, scary changes on their taxes, CRA calls to the studio about Richard, they have stayed and carried on, purely as a labour of love.
Only when it became apparent that there was no way out of this one, that it looked like they would no longer be getting paid, and when all of the financial concerns finally came to a head, did they finally feel trapped enough to be forced to leave. And they only did this when Richard agreed to lay them off.
The former staff are fighting these allegations and untruths so strongly because they care about Strange City, they care about their clients, and they care about their reputations.
The former staff of Strange City were not fired.
The former staff of Strange City did not quit.
The staff who now run the studio are not the staff who ran that studio. They are not the staff who helped give it the name is has today. The former staff of Strange City lost their livelihoods, and their reputations are being severely tarnished. They can not collect severance.
What the former staff want:
Its former staff are only asking for a few things from Richard. Quite simply, they want their T4s. They want a letter of recommendation for their years of hard work. They want the severance that they are legally entitled to. And, most importantly, they want their ROEs to accurately state what happened. They need to be laid off.
All of these are extremely simple. Some of them are legally required, and all of them are morally owed to them.
Why you should care:
We have all had bad bosses, and most of us have learned the hard way that the system is not always set up to help the little guy. While the former staff are stuck in bureaucracy to make formal complaints about what is right and what they can prove, the business still operates and Richard continues to sully the reputations of the people who made his studio what it is today. Strange City was more than a money machine for a man, it was the livelihood of nine people who cared, who gave it the name it had, and who are now being severely hurt by this situation.
Strange City had become the studio it was because of the nine people who ran it until early March, and it became that studio because of the words and the business of people like you. People who loved the services that were offered, the quality the staff fought to maintain, the standards the staff upheld. You should care because people like you gave that studio the name it has today. You should care because that name doesn’t mean anything anymore.
You should care because Richard wanted to carry externally threaded jewelry when he knew it was cheaper. You should care because Richard tried to force staff to perform piercings they felt were unsafe, and even threatened to hire staff who would do so if the piercers would not do as he said. You should care because when the staff would run low on disinfectant when money was tight, Richard would attempt to force staff to disinfect surfaces with floor cleaner, even going so far as to scream at staff to do so in front of a lobby full of clients. You should care because Richard consistently cross contaminates the studio. You should care because Richard is not a piercer, tattooer, a counter person, or a part of the industry at all other than a studio owner. You should care because Richard has no training in cross contamination, sterilization, or blood borne pathogens. You should care because despite all this, the staff never backed down. They never used floor cleaner to “disinfect”. They never budged on jewelry quality. They never performed piercings they felt were unsafe. And now, those staff are all gone, and Richard is insisting that they quit, or were fired, depending on who he is talking to.
You should care because piercing and tattooing has no union to help them, and the support of peers, clients, and anyone who cares, is all that the former staff can rely on. You should care because an injury to one is an injury to all. You should care because labour disputes have happened to so many of us, and could happen to anyone. We have all been the little guy, and this time you can actually help. Being the little guy is an alienating, infuriating, frustrating position, and you can help.
All that we ask is that you spread the word:
PLEASE. Reblog. Share. Post on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, wherever. Just let the word be known.
Support from people like you will help infinitely to those who are hurting, and those whose resolves are only strengthened by this support from their community.