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Young workers fight to save their manager


A group of Hampstead teens is doing something this week they never thought they would be -- fighting for their boss' job.

Concerned that David Schneider, 24, the manager at the Canopy Restaurant, is going to lose his job, the 11 youths -- 15 to 19 -- have passed out fliers, contacted the press and anyone else they feel might be able to help.

"We have all decided to stick up for our manager and prove our loyalty," said a flier the teen-agers distributed to businesses in the Roberts Field Shopping Center, where the Canopy is located. "Where else can you find such a great boss that you would fight for him to stay? Everyone here loves their jobs. Most people can't say that about their jobs."

As the employees understand it, Mr. Schneider's partners are unhappy with how much money the business is bringing in. In addition, the owners -- who put up the money to start the business in February -- don't seem to trust the teen-agers who have worked so hard for their boss, they said.

Mr. Schneider's partners disagreed with both points.

Mr. Schneider -- who owned the Lifestyle Cafe in Randallstown before opening the Hampstead Canopy -- declined to comment about the business disagreement with his partners, citing legal concerns.

But he did say he was impressed with what his employees were trying to do for him.

"Some of the kids have tried to quit, and then didn't quit out of loyalty to me," Mr. Schneider said. "I've built up a good relationship with them. I care about them. They are the most important thing here."

His partners, Steve Samson and Anthony and Charles Narciso, say the teen-agers have the story all wrong.

"He's not being forced out, he wants out," said Anthony Palaigos, an attorney representing the partners. "This is a private business transaction, and we're trying to work that out."

As for not trusting the youths or wanting to fire them, that's completely incorrect, Mr. Palaigos said.

"They really shouldn't be worried about anything," he said, adding that the employees aren't aware of complex dealings that have strained the business relationship.

"One of the owners put up his house as collateral for the business and he's not concerned," Mr. Palaigos said. "Mr. Schneider has nothing to lose whatsoever, compared to these people."

But those assurances have done little to ease the fears of the Canopy's employees.

Many said they never have had a boss as understanding or trusting as Mr. Schneider.

"I'd like Dave to stay, he's a really great boss," said Amanda Turner, 18, who has worked at the Canopy since it opened in February. "If you had any kind of problem, personal or business, he'd talk to you about it."

Melissa Rushing, 19, who has also worked at the Canopy since it opened last winter, said, "At my other job, I make $2 an hour more there than I do here and I'd rather be here.

"He trusts us and we trust him. We'd never take anything from him because he's been so nice to us. We couldn't do anything to hurt him."

School comes first, work second with Mr. Schneider, the teen-agers said, adding that their schedules at the Canopy are arranged around their homework and class schedules.

Mr. Schneider had become an active member of the community, organizing food drives, sending money to Oklahoma City when the federal building there was bombed and collecting donations to give one of his employees a scholarship.

He also had planned to close the business on Thanksgiving Day to offer a dinner for the less fortunate, served by his employees.

"He's treated us all with so much respect," said Amber Bosley, 19, who rallied her co-workers to fight for their boss' job. "He's given us a chance other people wouldn't, especially with Michael Thomas."

Michael, a 16-year-old who is autistic, has been working at the Canopy since it opened.

His mother, Barbara Thomas, echoed Ms. Bosley's sentiments and said she's told her son it might be hard to find another job if he loses this one.

"These kids love this man and like their jobs because of this man," Mrs. Thomas said, adding that her son is thrilled when Mr. Schneider needs him to come to work early.

"I'm happy when I see how excited he is that he's going into work," she said. "Not all young people are that excited about a job."

The youths have said that if Mr. Schneider is fired, they might quit in protest. But that is the last thing their boss wants them to do.

"I care very deeply for all of you and it would hurt me a great deal to know someone quit or lost their job because of me," Mr. Schneider wrote in a letter he distributed to the staff this week.

"I have learned a great deal from all of you. I really hope more than anything you all have learned a great deal from me."

The teens say that they have.

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