Dear Friends of the Depot,
We were thrilled to see many of you at our store re-opening last weekend. Thank you for your enduring support, your patience waiting in sometimes long lines, and your help keeping our staff and community safe as we enact COVID-19 safety protocols. We love being a part of the Temescal neighborhood and the Oakland community. We look forward to many more years learning and growing as an organization, understanding how to serve our diverse and beautiful communities better, and listening to your feedback.
In case we haven’t connected yet, my name is Jasmine Fallstich and I’m the new Executive Director of the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse. I couldn’t be more excited to be here and help lead the Depot into its next chapter.
With that, the Board of Directors and I want to transparently and honestly address the recent article in the Oaklandside that reported on some of our former employees’ hurt, frustration, and anger about how their relationship with the Depot ended as we all reacted to a new normal put in place for us when COVID-19 hit last March and shelter-in-place began.
First and foremost, we are a small community non-profit, supported by you and many others, and you deserve to hear directly from us. Previously we were unable to respond publicly due to a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) case and subsequent appeal filed by a former employee. That employee’s appeal was recently dismissed, so we are now able to speak more freely about the case and our relationship with our former employees. I hope in doing so, we begin to restore your trust and confidence in the Depot moving forward as we re-commit to serving our community and our employees.
To begin, here is a timeline to help place the following events over the course of the pandemic thus far:
- Employees were initially placed on furlough from March 16–April 2, 2020. A few employees stayed on to complete work related to closing the store but were also furloughed on April 10th.
- On April 10, 2020, all employees were notified that they had been permanently laid off as of March 16, 2020. Each employee was provided with a letter stating that the Depot could not reopen due to financial hardship caused in part by COVID-19, and that the initial furlough would become a lay-off.
- The letters also provided information about unemployment eligibility and the application process.
- During this time frame, one of the former employees asked for a signed guarantee that the staff would get their same jobs back when the Depot eventually reopened. This request was acknowledged but not answered at that time as there was no guarantee the Depot would ever reopen.
- Between June 10 and August 1, 2020, four employees were re-hired and returned to their jobs with limited hours.
- In December 2020 one additional former employee was re-hired and two new store clerks were hired.
The Depot applied for an $81,000 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan from the federal government in May 2020. This was an application for a loan only, not a grant. The way the PPP works is that some or all of the loan amount may be forgiven if it was primarily spent on payroll between the months of May to October. The store was not able to reopen safely during that time, so the only payroll costs were for the few employees we could safely hire back during that time. We have applied for loan forgiveness in the amount of $43,000 based on payroll and operating expenses between the months of May to October 2020. We have not yet received the $43,000 in loan forgiveness, and the remaining $38,000 will need to be paid back with interest, because it was not spent in accordance with the timeline requirements, and will end up being a financial liability to the Depot.
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I first discovered the Depot 10 years ago when I was doing my MBA at Presidio Graduate School. I have long been deeply interested in the issues of waste and waste reduction, which meant I was excited to have the opportunity to do a semester-long project creating a strategic and financial plan for the Depot. Throughout the years I have followed the Depot’s progress and became a regular shopper while secretly hoping I would someday have the opportunity to work here. And now here I am—happily, curiously, and yes a bit uncomfortably—trying to build on the history and steer the future of the Depot, safely reopen the storefront in the midst of a global pandemic, while also trying to understand how and why the relationship between the organization’s leadership and store staff has caused so much pain and strife.
Though the layoffs took place long before I came on board as the Executive Director, I knew once I did, I would also be taking on the responsibility of addressing and hopefully working to resolve what happened. The Oaklandside article was published about a week before I began working for the Depot. I was aware it was coming out and had been briefed on what it may say, but it was my first real peek into the heartache and true sense of loss the former employees were experiencing.
Since that day, I knew I had to immediately start to dig into the ins and outs of how the Depot has been run. I was particularly interested in our managerial practices, mechanisms for conflict resolution, and performance reviews/feedback cycles. What I have found so far would be challenging for any employee: in terms of operational and cultural best practices, we are decades behind where we should be. Our HR practices are not up to the standards and expectations of employees in today’s workplace. I am pro-labor and pro-workers’ rights and I definitely support the former employees’ right to protest the manner in which they were managed, and eventually laid-off. I promise to do better by all our future employees.
You might be asking yourself why, with all those challenges, I wanted this job. Here’s why: I believe in the Depot, the legacy of what it has been and the vision for what it could be. Part of that is becoming financially solvent, which I believe will help us fulfill our mission of supporting artists and educators, makers and crafters, anyone aspiring to be, or anyone just on the hunt for a treasure that someone else once considered trash. I believe that we all have a personal responsibility to reduce our waste output, but I also believe in the vision that the Depot can be a catalyst to push our community, businesses, cities, state and even country to systematically change our collective relationship to waste.
Since starting my new role, I have had the opportunity to be in dialogue with a few of the former employees directly and have more conversations scheduled this week. My understanding of their feelings from our conversations is that even before the pandemic, the Depot was not doing enough to live up to its mission. Through these conversations, I am beginning to understand the pain caused—even though unintentionally—by this layoff, and that much of this pain had been building up for the retail staff for years, had not been addressed, and was not necessarily related to the pandemic. Many former employees spent years of their lives dedicated to working for and building up the Depot, considering it a second home, and safe haven for them and their art. At the same time, we were all experiencing a rapidly gentrifying Oakland and seeing many beloved community spaces disappear sometimes overnight.
I believe there are many paths towards changing our relationship to waste, but I know that financial solvency, for the Depot, is critical to living up to our mission. This will allow us to more fully support art and artists in the East Bay, and advocate for more community spaces in addition to the Depot where we can provide good paying jobs with health insurance to artists, teachers, and makers in our community, allowing them to stay in Oakland, the East Bay, and the Bay Area as part of the diverse fabric that makes up our vibrant lives.
Like any organization, as we grow, change, and adapt to unprecedented circumstances we will sometimes make mistakes. I hope we are given the opportunity to correct those mistakes and keep, earn, or regain your trust if we have lost it. Part of the reason I am here is to do just that. In addition, I am always open to hearing your constructive feedback about how we can do better both for our employees and our community. I can always be reached directly at email@example.com if you would like to follow up with me one-on-one.