Employees at Louis’ Loft are disappointed that management has not adequately responded to their health and safety concerns after months of complaints. The employees are concerned that some cooking appliances are producing excess smoke and reducing air quality.
Beyond the main concern of ventilation, employees say that poor management has led to a decrease in their morale and worsened the work environment. The employees interviewed note that, after approaching the assistant manager of the café and both the general manager and the facilities manager of the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union, they feel as though they are considered insignificant to the union.
Terrance Smith*, an employee at the Loft, has had difficulty with the panini grill and convection oven, as he says they both produce enough heat and smoke to cause momentary breathing and eyesight issues.
“If you’re the person on food, and you’re constantly opening the oven — because it’s a convection oven and it has all these fans — when you open the oven, you can see a huge plume of smoke being spewed at your face and your eyes are watering and you’re crying — you can’t breath. It’s terrible,” Smith said.
Smith says that he and a few of his fellow employees have informed Matt Fehr, assistant manager of Louis’ Loft, of their concerns a number of times since fall 2017. He says that, in December 2017, management responded to the complaints by asking for the appliances to be cleaned. When asked about the situation, the general manager of the USSU said that additional ventilation is unnecessary, as the appliances do not require it.
The smoke from the appliances has continued to persist even after more frequent cleaning, according to Justin Hayes*, a former employee at the Loft. On March 8, the USSU approved the purchase of a new panini maker in the 2018-19 budget, as the lid of the current machine does not close fully.
“We complained to [Fehr], but basically, that didn’t get us anywhere. He said just to clean it more, but cleaning it more meant cleaning it in the first place,” Hayes said. “The root of the issue is ventilation. It doesn’t matter if you get a new panini grill — it’s still going to have smoke.”
Jason Ventnor, the communications and marketing manager of the USSU, responded by stating that Louis’ has been made aware of the employees’ concerns and has taken action to resolve the issue.
“Management determined that the concern was a maintenance/cleaning issue, and it has been addressed. The equipment in question does not require ventilation per the manufacturer’s design, and all information was communicated to the employees by Louis’ management,” Ventnor said, in an email to the Sheaf.
Lisa Reimer*, a former employee of the Loft, believes that more frequent cleaning of the appliances could reduce the production of smoke. She notes that the former manager was more thorough with cleaning duties, so new management may have contributed to decreased maintenance of the appliances.
Hayes notes that, after talking to Loft management, he was not directed to any resources for filing an official health and safety complaint. However, he was directed to speak with Caroline Cottrell, the general manager of the USSU, and Stefanie Ewen, the facilities manager of the USSU.
“Customers … sitting half way down Louis’ Loft with asthma have complained about the smoke. Your employees are complaining. There’s employees that can’t breathe, that have the eye issues, that are getting dizzy, and they keep saying, ‘Well, we don’t really have the money right now,’” Hayes said.
Smith notes his disappointment that the union has pursued renovations in the Memorial Union Building, yet additional ventilation is considered unessential.
Former employee Reanne Sereda suggests that the Loft should change the type of menu items served to cold sandwiches and soups to avoid using appliances that can cause smoke.
“When I initially brought this to [Fehr’s] attention, he informed me that, when they designed this space, they had not intended to use it for these purposes, and they were aware that there was a problem, but unfortunately, there is nothing they can do,” Sereda said. “How about changing the menu if the building isn’t designed for it?”
Reanne now works in occupational health and safety, and she notes that the Loft has neglected to adequately address workers’ concerns, which contradicts Section 12 of The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations. However, Ventnor maintains that the USSU has upheld these regulations.
“The USSU operates under The Saskatchewan Employment Act, and our Occupational Health and Safety Committee representatives meet regularly and work together with management in identifying and resolving any health and safety concerns. As restaurants, Louis’ and [the] Loft must comply with The Food Safety Regulations and are subject to regular public health inspections. We address any concerns to the satisfaction of the Saskatchewan Public Health Officers.”
*To respect the privacy of the individuals interviewed, their names have been changed.
Nykole King / News Editor
Photo: Gabbie Torres