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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

The cost of renovating your bathroom in Toronto in 2021

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Home renovations can be a big task, especially bathroom renovations where you have to work with either an awkwardly shaped space, or one with lots of pipework and very little natural light.

Nonetheless, getting a bathroom renovation by Easy Renovation to change your existing bathroom layout, improve the ambience or add more natural skylights can be worth all the trouble. But determining how much a bathroom renovation would cost is important while setting a budget.

The pandemic has changed a lot of things with social distancing rules, working from home, and for some, being made redundant. Therefore, having a complete grasp of the financial implication of a bathroom innovation is very important.

Owning your dream bathroom can be made a reality and the good thing is, regardless of your financial situation, there are always available options. If you also decide to put up your property for sale in the future, a bathroom upgrade would be a great investment—as it would add significant value to the property. Your bathroom renovation project, like every home renovation, can either be very affordable or extravagant, but one thing is certain, you’re bound to have a more refreshed, stylish and modernistic space.  

Looking through detailed sketches of luxurious and expensive bathrooms can be quite tempting, especially when you’re on a budget. However, your bathroom can be equally transformed into something that looks just as modern, stylish and refreshing but without the heavy price tag.

Conducting a partial bathroom renovation means you only have to change a little part of your existing bathroom rather than tearing it down and starting from scratch. If you intend to carry out this type of bathroom renovation in Toronto, depending on the size of your bathroom, you can spend between $1,000 – $5,000. With a partial bathroom renovation, you can save money by tackling smaller problems that exist in your present bathroom—or you can just upgrade a few of its features.

Partial bathroom renovations are quite affordable and would leave your bathroom feeling new and stylish without being time-consuming or a financial burden—which is important considering the economic impact of the pandemic. Repainting the bathroom walls, replacing the tiles on the floor and in the shower area are examples of partial bathroom renovations which is the cheapest to accomplish.

A more expensive and popular bathroom renovation is the standard 3- or 4-piece renovation. This renovation type involves a lot more services that are not covered by a partial renovation budget. To execute a standard bathroom renovation in Toronto you need a budget of about $10,000 – $15,000.

Unlike with a partial renovation, you would have to make a lot more changes to various elements of your bathroom without the hassle of changing the overall design. You can easily restore your current bathroom into a modernistic and classy space that fits your existing style. Making changes to more aspects of your bathroom is quite easy since there is more room in your budget to accommodate it.

A standard 3- or 4-piece renovation includes everything in a partial renovation plus extras such as revamped baseboards, installing a new bathroom mirror, buying new lights, installing a new vanity, changing the toilet, and buying new shower fixtures.

If you’re one of those looking to make a complete overhaul of your existing bathroom, then the option of a complete bathroom remodel is for you.

Unlike a bathroom renovation, remodelling means a complete change of your current bathroom design and layout for one that is newer and completely unrecognizable. The possibilities when remodelling a bathroom are endless especially when you have a large budget of over $15,000. That way, you can get the opportunity to create the perfect bathroom for yourself.

In addition to all that’s available with a standard bathroom renovation, bathroom remodelling allows you to make bathtub to shower conversion, relocation of plumbing, relocation of the toilet, reframing the bathroom and even relocating the shower.

In conclusion, a bathroom renovation can be a very important upgrade to your home and depending on the features that you decide to include, in addition to the size of your bathroom, this would influence the total cost of the project.

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7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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