Stella’s campaign underlines lack of worker rights

Workers resort to social media to achieve basic justice in the workplace

On Nov. 8, an Instagram account with the name @notmystellas released its first post.

Referencing Winnipeg’s favourite café, Stella’s Café & Bakery, the post detailed a grim story of management perpetuating sexism, homophobia and a gross mistreatment of frontline staff.

Just weeks later, the account has since published hundreds of posts detailing similar sentiments, while collecting well over 12,000 followers and an outpouring of public support.

Meanwhile, for the entire year of 2017, Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health received only one single complaint of harassment against the chain. These realities should be a wakeup call for Manitoba lawmakers.

Manitoba workplace legislation has failed women and minorities in the workplace for decades and the situation at Stella’s is evidence that, structurally, little has changed.

Within the framework of a colonial capitalist system, it would be naive to assume a small business has the best interest of its employees in mind. When employees do not understand the rights they are entitled to, their rights become negated.

The moment a young person enters the workforce, they must understand exactly what are their rights, what qualifies as mistreatment from an employer and what steps they must take in order to solve the mistreatment.

The mistreatment of employees at Stella’s is only a grain of sand on a beach of Canadian employers who abuse their employees.

Steve Bechard was formerly a kitchen manager at Stella’s. However, after coming forward with a sexual assault complaint, he was promptly fired from his position.

Despite his best efforts to reach out to the Manitoba Labour Board as well as the police, he was not able to get his job back.

An employee should not fear for their job and the means of supporting their family when they report sexual harassment, assault or mistreatment.

If the policy makers in the legislature are listening, working people want legislation empathetic to their needs.

Legislation should be adapted to a world of technology, where reports can easily be submitted anonymously and a compassionate Employment Standards should be created rather than a pyramid of forms and bureaucracy, where complaints are not taken seriously. This, along with far more public awareness in the form of education campaigns, can ensure no worker is mistreated and taken advantage of.

In the meantime, however, it is brave women like Christina Hajjar, Kelsey Wade and Amanda Murdock who have come forward with their stories and facilitated positive change. The fact that an Instagram account with the stories of real people has the power to sway public opinion enough to produce real, positive change within a company is a testament to the hard work of the women who began this movement.

The fundamental failure of this system is what led people to feel so helpless that the only course of action they believed would help with their conditions was to publish their stories and hope for empathy from real humans. They lost faith in the failed system.

In a Nov. 10 press conference, the three women fronting the #notmystellas movement read the five demands they wished to have met. This included public acknowledgement of responsibility from Stella’s, a formal apology from the owners, the removal of executives Brad Burrows and Grant Anderson, monetary restitution for mental health services to those affected and the creation of a proper human resources department.

The least Stella’s can do to maintain any shred of credibility is to comply completely with these entirely reasonable demands. On Nov. 12, Stella’s released a statement claiming both Burrows and Anderson took an indefinite leave of absence pending an independent investigation.

It is a testament to the magnitude and strength of the movement these three women started that two top executives have been placed on leave.

For the sake of the potentially hundreds of employees who had to endure the mistreatment at their hands, both must be permanently removed from their positions if there will be any justice served.

The positive change this movement has triggered cannot be overstated.

The attention will undoubtedly cause a ripple effect on many other Manitoba businesses, which will positively affect countless other employees.

Winnipeg’s response to the #notmystella’s movement is a beacon of positive change to come for all workers.