Rainforest Cafe workers in Niagara Falls, Ontario have been on strike since April 7th due to the mishandling of sexual assault allegations. Now, workers are courageously coming forward to share their experiences of workplace sexual assault with the public. According to a press release by Workers United Canada Council, the employees feel strongly that their employer, Canadian Niagara Hotels Inc., was callous and insensitive when workers reported a series of sexual assault incidents. The Rainforest Cafe employee strike is being held in response to the issue.
When management at the Rainforest Cafe received complaints of sexual assault from three employees - all accusing the same colleague of inappropriate misconduct - managers permitted the assailant to continue working. The complainants also explain that they were victim-shamed.
The press release describes a young female employee who was subjected to inappropriate sexual touching, ultimately amounting to assault, six times in three hours. She reportedly was made to feel guilty for reporting the assault, as her manager defended the assailant by saying he "couldn't sleep at night" and that she should speak to him.
The same manager was informed of another assault. This time, the victim was a woman named Brandi Reale and the manager who shamed her also explained how bad her assailant felt, encouraging her to accept his apology. Brandi questioned why her assailant was still employed by the company, when so many others had been fired for much more benign misdemeanours, like talking on a cellphone while at work.
A colleague named Shaun Watson informed management that the complainants no longer felt safe in the workplace. In response, management emphasized that the issue had been "taken care of." Additionally, management explained that the company didn't want the perpetrator of the assaults "feeling uncomfortable" in the workplace. Shaun was then immediately asked to leave the office.
On April 6th, employees voted to strike, largely due to the gross mishandling of the string of sexual assaults over the last several months. Canadian Niagara Hotels finally terminated the assailant's employment after five days of the strike, only once the issue garnered public attention from the media.
A union representative named Mike Ward reportedly commented, "Does Canadian Niagara Hotels condone this type of behaviour? Managers cannot be allowed to sweep issues like sexual assault under the rug. We are disturbed that the worker who committed these sexual assaults was only let go after the issue became public knowledge. Workers want a union contract so they can return to a workplace where they feel safe and have real protections."
Last week, CBC News reported that a father and daughter were evicted from the Crowne Plaza Niagara Falls because they supported the striking workers at the adjacent Rainforest Cafe. Both the restaurant and hotel are owned by the same parent company.
As Alan Tomlinson, 61, and his daughter Lauren walked back to their hotel room from a rally on April 13th, two security guards told them they had to leave, citing a "conflict of interest". One of the guards threatened to call the police if they did not voluntarily leave the hotel.
To view a video testimonial of the workers' experiences, visit Workers United Canada's Facebook page.