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‘Really toxic’: Abuse allegations continue to dog Winnipeg restaurant chain Stella’s Cafe

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Three former Stella’s Cafe employees behind an online campaign to bring attention to what they call workplace harassment, unfair treatment of staff, racism, and sexual assault at the Winnipeg restaurant chain have outlined what they’d like to see done about their concerns.

Christina Hajjar, 27, Kelsey Wade, 22 and Amanda Murdock, 36, are the public faces of a group that started the Instagram account “Not My Stella’s” which began posting stories this week from people who say they are past and current employees of the chain with more than 500 employees.

Many of those stories — the group said they’ve received as many 180 as of Saturday afternoon — detail allegations of abuse of staff, but also a culture of fear about reporting transgressions to management and cases where people have been fired for doing so.

In a statement sent to media on Friday, Stella’s said it was committed to providing a safe space for everyone, both employees and customers. 

“We do not believe that it would be constructive to try to publicly address matters raised in social media,” the company said in its statement. “Stella’s has a harassment policy and procedures in place for dealing with these complaints. We take them very seriously.”

The company also said it has hired People First, a human resources company, to review their policies and procedures on workplace safety.

Read Friday’s statement from Stella’s:

At a news conference Saturday, the three former employees said the statement didn’t go far enough and called for changes to operations at the restaurant with seven Winnipeg locations.  

“There have been complaints made with the labour board, there have been human rights complaints made and nothing has ever really come of it,” said Wade, who worked as a server and supervisor at Stella’s for nearly three years.

“And I think it was just time for people to know what the environment in Stella’s is like for employees.”

Five demands

The creators of the Instagram account — which had nearly 10,000 followers as of Saturday evening — read out five demands they want fulfilled, which include a public apology, the removal of two managers, monetary restitution for employees, and the creation of a human resources department within the company.

The stories posted on the Instagram account include a wide array of allegations, such as bullying, sexual assault, harassment and racism.

The three also accuse Stella’s of failing to protect female, transgender and non-binary employees.

In an online post, Wade said the restaurant’s CEO would grab her cheeks and call her cute when visited the restaurant where she worked. She said the business released a questionnaire asking other staff to rate the credibility of an employee who had spoken up with allegations of sexual assault and harassment.   

She said the accused was ultimately transferred to another location after the allegations. 

Murdock said she was demoted from general manager to an assistant manager position after returning from maternity leave. Hajjar said she was fired from Stella’s a year ago for bringing up her concerns.

“What we’ve experienced is terrifying,” said Murdock, who added it’s difficult to speak about even now, three years after leaving the company. “It brings up a lot of trauma.” 

All three former employees stressed they are not asking Winnipeggers to boycott Stella’s restaurants.

Wade said customers who want to support Stella’s employees should call the restaurant’s head office to voice concerns and remember to tip frontline staff well and in cash.

Stella’s has a number of restaurant locations as well as a bakery and catering operation in Winnipeg. (Ron Boileau/Radio-Canada)

The former employees said they are willing to work with Stella’s owners and management to implement the changes they’re calling for.

“Any conversation that’s forward moving is a conversation that we’re willing to have,” said Murdock. 

“But it’s important that they realize that these statements that we made are based on what we’ve experienced and they’re valid and they’re important and they should be respected.”

A second statement from Stella’s

Stella’s released a second statement shortly after Saturday’s new conference encouraging those with complaints to bring them forward through independent third parties, like the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and Manitoba Employment Standards.

(NotMyStellas/Instagram)

“Stella’s is deeply concerned about a range of serious allegations and complaints being brought forward in recent days,” reads the statement

“We are fully committed to taking every responsible action to ensure a safe and respectful workplace for all employees, and a zero tolerance approach to breaches of respectful workplace policy will be enforced.”

The statement also said Stella’s will work with authorities investigating any complaint.

The restaurant didn’t respond to CBC News when asked whether the two managers specifically named by the three former employees are still with the company.

‘Toxic atmosphere’

Another former employee of the restaurant chain told CBC News on Saturday that he’s not surprised by the steady stream of allegations of mistreatment of staff by management.

Luke Savard was 18-years-old when he started working at Stella’s roughly three years ago.

He described it as a toxic atmosphere with an overtly sexualized culture that left many employees feeling anxious and afraid.

(NotMyStellas/Instagram)

He said he remembers feeling like he wasn’t allowed to take a break while on shift.

“They said we didn’t need breaks so I’d be working an eight, nine hour shift straight without anything so much as a five minute break,” he said, adding he was told he wasn’t allowed to drink water in front of customers.

Savard said he was also ordered to pay out of his own pocket when a till that had been used by many staff throughout the day didn’t balance at the end of the night.

After a few months, Savard had enough and quit.

“The atmosphere there was just really, really toxic to be in,” he said. “It wasn’t my coworkers that were the problem, it was the management.”

No outstanding complaints

On Friday, the company said it was not aware of any outstanding complaints against the restaurant with the Manitoba Labour Board or the Human Rights Commission.

The Manitoba Labour Board said there was only one previous complaint against the company, which was made in September, but it had been withdrawn.

The labour board confirmed there were no other past or outstanding complaints.

The Manitoba Human Rights Commission said it is not able to confirm or deny if a complaint has been filed unless the commission investigates a matter and determines it should be referred to a public hearing.​

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Real Estate

Couple from Toronto buys dream home in Mushaboom

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MUSHABOOM – A couple who lived and raised a family in downtown Toronto developed a five-year plan in 2015 to purchase their dream home.

In September they moved into the home – located on Malagash Island in Mushaboom on Nova Scotia’s stunning Eastern Shore – that met and exceeded their best dreams for their retirement.

The Camerons, Bruce and Tanya, decided in 2019 they would explore the Maritimes to see what real estate was available to become their potential retirement home. In the spring of 2020, during a global pandemic, the real estate boom hit their city, and they were hearing the same for Nova Scotia. Our province was their first-choice for attaining their desire for an entirely different lifestyle – away from the busyness of the city.

“We had $300,000 to $350,000 as a home value in mind to buy. Our semi-detached located off Danforth in Toronto was priced at $850,000. We wanted to come out ahead, so we would be secure in retirement,” Tanya said.

Their century-old home had prime location near the subway and GO Transit Line for a great 13-minute commute downtown.

“We enjoyed our community,” explains Bruce “… we had great neighbours, young children around and street parties – lots of social activity.”

Bruce says, “Our agent suggested a starting quote of $899,000. We did not do any renovations and only some staging. Fifty couples went through and we received four significant offers. Six days later we sold – with zero conditions – and a price of over a million dollars. We just requested a closing of September 2020 to get the kids off to school – which we got.”

The couple got more than they had anticipated.

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Real Estate

Rabobank Announces Leadership Changes in U.S., Canadian Offices

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NEW YORK, Dec. 16, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Rabobank, the leading global food and agribusiness bank, has appointed two of its top executives, Tamira Treffers-Herrera and Robert Sinescu, to become Co-Heads of North American Client Coverage, positioning the Bank for future growth in the region.

Treffers-Herrera has also assumed the role of Vice Chairperson and Head of the Atlanta office, where she additionally oversees Rabobank Mexico, which is led by Eduardo Palacios. Sinescu is the Head of the Chicago office, and also oversees Rabobank Canada, led by Marc Drouin, who was recently appointed as Canada’s General Manager.

Treffers-Herrera and Sinescu report to David Bassett, Head of Wholesale Banking North America, the Bank’s corporate and investment banking business for the region based in New York.

“Both Tamira and Robert have a demonstrated history of strong leadership, operational excellence and passion for our clients,” Bassett said. “Their broad experience and deep sector expertise will be invaluable in delivering dynamic results for clients while accelerating our growth trajectory in North America.”

Each office will have an even greater focus on key Food & Agribusiness sectors and clients: The Chicago office will drive growth in sectors including Dairy, Farm Inputs and Grains & Oilseeds, which are also key areas of focus for the Canada office. The Atlanta office will focus heavily on sectors such as Animal Protein, Beverages, Sugar, and Supply Chains, which are important sectors in Mexico as well.

“Rabobank is fully committed to our clients throughout North America, and we believe our new sector-focused coverage will improve our ability to provide knowledge-based, value-added solutions that benefit our clients,” Bassett said.

Treffers-Herrera was most recently based in London as CEO of Rabobank’s European Region from 2016-2020, where she took the organization through Brexit. Prior to that, she worked in the Atlanta office from 2002-2016. During her tenure in Atlanta, Treffers-Herrera served as Global Sector Head – Consumer Food & Beverages, and prior to that she was a senior banker for a portfolio of large beverage and consumer foods clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Kentucky, a Master of Arts from the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce and has studied at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Harvard Business School.

Sinescu has been with Rabobank for over 21 years and was previously General Manager of Rabobank Canada, where he oversaw all operations, business development, commercial strategy and relationships with regulators. In addition, he continues to serve as CEO of Rabo Securities Canada Inc. Prior to Canada, he was a senior banker, Head of Corporate Banking, European Sector Head for Sugar, and a member of the Management Team for Rabobank France. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Business from the Bucharest School of Business, a Master of Business Administration & Management and a Master of Science in Banking and Corporate Finance from Sorbonne University in Paris, and has studied at Brown University.

Drouin has worked with Rabobank’s Canadian team for more than nine years and most recently served as a senior banker, Head of Rabobank Canada’s AgVendor Program and a member of Rabobank Canada’s Management Team. He brings extensive wholesale banking experience within the Dairy, G&O, CPG and Supply Chain sectors. Drouin holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from McGill University and a Master of Business Administration in International Finance, Marketing and Management from the Schulich School of Business at York University.

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Real Estate

Greybrook Realty Partners & Marlin Spring Brand Jointly Owned Asset Manager – Greyspring Apartments

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TORONTO, Dec. 14, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Greybrook Realty Partners and Marlin Spring are pleased to announce the new branding of their jointly owned investment and asset management firm, Greyspring Apartments. With a portfolio of more than 2,000 units and CAD$375 million in assets under management, Greyspring Apartments is focused on the acquisition and repositioning of multi-family assets throughout Canada.

The new name and branding is an important step in Greyspring’s evolution as an independent operating business. Formed in 2018 by long standing-partners Marlin Spring and Greybrook Realty Partners, Greyspring Apartments was established with the goal of building a leading asset management firm with a robust portfolio of residential rental real estate assets in primary and secondary markets across Canada.

Greyspring’s talented team of real estate, asset management and finance professionals is overseen and guided by the Management Board, whose members include Benjamin Bakst, CEO, Marlin Spring; Elliot Kazarnovksy, CFO, Marlin Spring; Sasha Cucuz, CEO, Greybrook Securities Inc.; Peter Politis, CEO, Greybrook Realty Partners; Chris Salapoutis, President & COO, Greybrook Realty Partners; Ashi Mathur, President, Marlin Spring; and Karl Brady. In addition to his role on the Management Board, Karl Brady leads Greyspring Apartments as its President. 

“We are pleased to announce the official name and branding of a business we formed with our partners at Marlin Spring a few years ago,” said Peter Politis, CEO, Greybrook Realty Partners. “Greyspring has been diligently focused on the execution of strategic value-add programs across its portfolio that are improving the quality of housing for tenants and overall asset values. For Greybrook investors, expanding from our core business in real estate development to the value-add space through Greyspring, has allowed us to provide our clients with investment opportunities that diversify their real estate investment portfolios.”

“Marlin Spring and Greybrook have partnered on many residential real estate projects in recent years,” said Benjamin Bakst, CEO and Cofounder, Marlin Spring. “To a great extent, Greyspring illustrates our approach to partnerships. We believe in, and strive for, responsible growth through deepening our relationships with our trusted partners. With Greyspring, we’ve formalized our focus on providing better and more affordable living experiences for Canadians. This vision aligns with our mission to deliver exceptional real estate value to all our stakeholders with an uncompromising adherence to our core values.”

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