Stella’s employees go on strike at Sherbrook Street location

Workers at Stella’s on Sherbrook Street are walking a picket line Monday morning.

Members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832 held signs as they walked in front of the Winnipeg restaurant Monday morning, their numbers bolstered by non-staff supporters holding flags and signs.

“This is not a strike over wages, this is a strike over the complete lack of respect that this employer shows to workers,” union president Jeff Traeger said in a news release.

The union’s bargaining committee has been meeting with Stella’s management since June to negotiate a deal for workers but has been unsuccessful. Traeger said the employer didn’t take the process seriously and didn’t come to the table with any proposals for employees.

Talks officially broke down on Friday.

The union’s bargaining committee has been meeting with Stella’s management since June to negotiate a deal for workers but has been unsuccessful, union president Jeff Traeger said. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The strike comes on the heels of two major upheavals for Stella’s. In May, the Osborne Street location — the only other Stella’s location that’s unionized — was closed. And last week, Stella’s announced it is shuttering its airport location after a drop in airline travel.

“The timing of this action is deeply unfortunate,” said a statement emailed by the company on Monday morning.

“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have now shuttered two locations, our Osborne and YWG locations, which has meant the loss of over 50 jobs within the Stella’s family.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenging circumstances for restaurants across the city and to accept the current UFCW proposal “would be disastrous,” the statement said.

“It would cause extreme economic harm to Stella’s, adversely affecting all staff, customers, and suppliers. For the benefit of employees and the community, we hope that everyone can begin to pull in the same direction so that our business survives the current plight we find ourselves in.” 

Until there is a significant change in connection with the strike action at the Sherbrook location, no further statements will be released, the email said.

It noted that, although the Sherbrook location is closed due to the strike, the other four locations are open. Stella’s Bakery next door to the Sherbrook restaurant also is open.

The Winnipeg-based restaurant chain has a spotty history with its employees.

Last October, staff at the Sherbrook location won their first union contract and within the first month, the union filed a grievance with the employer.

UFCW said workers were “punished” by the owners for starting the union, with management refusing to give a wage increase outlined in the collective agreement.

“This employer is one of the most disrespectful that UFCW 832 has ever dealt with. The strength and drive of these members continue to impress me,” Traeger said.

In late 2018, an Instagram account called “Not My Stella’s” began posting accounts from people who said they were past and current employees of the chain.

Many of those stories detailed allegations of abuse of staff, but also a culture of fear about reporting transgressions to management and cases where people had been fired for doing so.

“We have been in a constant battle with this employer since the Not My Stella’s campaign happened. A campaign that pointed out the worst of many problems this employer has,” Traeger said.

On Monday, one of the signs held by striking staff at the Sherbrook location read “Still not my Stella’s.”

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