Manitoba

Union files grievances against Stella's in 1st month of contract for workers at restaurant

The union that represents employees of Stella’s Café on Sherbrook Street says workers are being "punished" by the owners of the Winnipeg restaurant chain for starting a union, with management refusing to give the wage increase outlined in their collective agreement.

Winnipeg chain says it has made changes in wake of Not My Stella's social media campaign

Stella's Café on Sherbrook was the first of the Winnipeg chain's locations to have a collective agreement. (Ron Boileau/CBC)

The union that represents employees of Stella's Café on Sherbrook Street is filing several grievances against the Winnipeg restaurant's owners, saying management is refusing to give the wage increases outlined in a newly implemented collective agreement.

The president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832 says the union had to file five grievances against Stella's and is filing an unfair labour practice complaint, less than a month after the contract became official.  

"We have been receiving a large number of complaints from Stella's workers at the Sherbrook location about the manner in which the employer has implemented the first agreement," said Jeffrey Traeger, the president of UFCW Local 832.

"Our workers are telling us they feel they are being punished for getting a union and getting a collective agreement."

Employees at two of the seven Stella's locations in Winnipeg, including the Sherbrook location, voted to unionize late last year following the "Not My Stella's" campaign. The social media campaign saw workers detail complaints about management and allegations of sexual harassment, bullying and abuse at the chain.

In a written statement, Stella's owners fired back at the UFCW's allegations.

Owner Tore Sohlberg says Stella's has been vigilant in ensuring "precise compliance" with the contract.

"We are confident we have met the obligations set out in the contract," he said.

Disagreement on timing for raise

Traeger says the grievance that is causing the most concern concerns a wage increase.

The collective agreement — which applies to the restaurant's servers, dishwashers, cooks, hosts, baristas and expos (workers who prepare food to be taken to tables) — calls for a wage increase after one year.

The union says that means the increase should come after one year of employment, but Stella's says it means one year after the contract was signed.

As a result, no one has gotten a wage increase, says Traeger.

Details of the contract were revealed earlier this month.

Jeff Traeger, president of UFCW Local 832, said employees believe they're being punished for joining a union. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

"We do a lot of first contracts because we are a private-sector union, and I can tell you that we have never had to file five grievances at the start of a relationship with the employer," Traeger said.

The unfair labour practice complaint also concerns the wage increase, with the union alleging Stella's is "purposefully not paying out the wages that were imposed by the contract."

The other grievances allege management is not scheduling hours of work by seniority and is forcing workers to be available for four shifts per week — when the contract says it should be two shifts. 

Traeger also says management is forcing servers to give up their tables if they take their paid break. 

"So effectively, they lose their tips for the tables," he said. "It is creating a lot of confusion and havoc, and those employees believe it is intentional."

'Positive change': Stella's VP

Sohlberg said the company will not comment on any specifics of the contract or the complaints, saying it is choosing to go through the formal grievance process.

But Rob Del Grosso, Stella's vice-president of operations since January, says since the Not My Stella's campaign, the chain's operations and policies have been completely revamped. 

"It is a complete thing of the past," he said.

"We are comfortable that people are feeling really good about what they are seeing, and we are hearing … from employees that they are seeing the positive change."

Stella's now has a culture and engagement committee with staff as members, a human resources department, and a confidential employee hotline and grievance procedure, among other things, he said.

All five of UFCW's grievances are being forwarded to the arbitration process.

The union anticipates the grievance process and unfair labour practice complaints will take months to resolve.

If Stella's is found to have engaged in an unfair labour practice, it will have to pay a penalty of up to $2,000 to each Stella's employee and to the union. 

About the Author

Kristin Annable is a member of CBC's investigative unit based in Winnipeg. She can be reached at kristin.annable@cbc.ca

With files from Rachel Bergen

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