Vero Aguilar came out to her family 11 years ago. Her family supported her— even her extended family in Mexico that she thought might handle the news poorly. Since then, there have been few instances where she has been made to feel ashamed of her identity as a queer woman.
Aguilar says that changed in June when an executive running the Cinnabon franchise where she is employed banned Pride flags.
On Friday, Aguilar and 13 other workers at the Northridge Fashion Center Cinnabon walked off the job, the start of what workers say will be a three-day strike to protest the policy.
“We identify as LGBTQ people and LGBTQ allies, and we are harmed by Cinnabon’s new discriminatory policy forbidding expressions of Pride at work,” the workers said in a complaint filed Aug. 1 with the California Civil Rights Department alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and gender expression. “Singling out and banning symbols of Pride causes us to feel inferior, unwelcomed, attacked, hurt, humiliated and unsafe.”
The Cinnabon workers said the dispute began June 16 with a series of messages from an executive at 13TH Floor/Pilot, the limited liability company that operates the Northridge store and 15 other locations, to more than 200 franchise employees.
“I am breaking my rule about only good news here,” wrote Greg Reheis, vice president of operations for 13TH Floor/Pilot. “We do not discriminate or celebrate any particular race, ethnic group, gender specific group, religious group. If any store [is] displaying a Pride Flag, it is to be taken down IMMEDIATELY!” according to the workers’ complaint.
Reheis did not respond to a request for comment. The Northridge Cinnabon’s store manager declined to comment, as did a district manager who oversees the store for 13TH Floor/Pilot.
Reheis’ June edict came in the middle of Pride Month, which was marked this year with controversies over corporate participation in the celebration of LGBTQ+ people.
Workers protested at dozens of Starbucks stores after reports that some managers banned Pride decor — an accusation denied by the coffee chain. And Target pulled some merchandise celebrating Pride Month from store shelves, citing safety concerns of customers knocking down Pride displays, angrily confronting workers and posted threatening videos on social media from inside the stores.
Delylah Rodriguez, 21, who identifies as queer, said when she saw the messages, she sent them to a bunch of people. “I was saying, ‘This is messed up, like why is he saying this?’” Rodriguez said.
The ban on Pride decorations is just one of many issues plaguing the Cinnabon at Northridge Fashion Center, employees said during interviews as they picketed in 93-degree heat, their ranks bolstered by Service Employees International Union California organizers.
Employees said they are forced to work in stifling temperatures of high 80s and mid-90s because the store’s air conditioning system has been malfunctioning since last September. Because the AC unit leaks, water frequently puddles, making the floor slippery and creating more cleaning work for employees, they said.
Cinnabon employee Isaac Ortego, 21, said he gets nosebleeds at work from the heat. “It never happens anywhere else,” he said.