June 24, 2021

At Blaine Wetzel’s Willows Inn, Employees Report Years of Workplace Abuse

When she was hired full-time, she said, Mr. Wetzel told her she was in line for a sous-chef position. (Many employees said they had heard the same promise, usually when they were on the verge of quitting.) But she said that after two years of watching younger men steadily being promoted ahead of her, and seeing other women chefs ignored, she resigned.

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A Rise in Anti-Asian Attacks

A torrent of hate and violence against people of Asian descent around the United States began last spring, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

    • Background: Community leaders say the bigotry was fueled by President Donald J. Trump, who frequently used racist language like “Chinese virus” to refer to the coronavirus.
    • Data: The New York Times, using media reports from across the country to capture a sense of the rising tide of anti-Asian bias, found more than 110 episodes since March 2020 in which there was clear evidence of race-based hate.
    • Underreported Hate Crimes: The tally may be only a sliver of the violence and harassment given the general undercounting of hate crimes, but the broad survey captures the episodes of violence across the country that grew in number amid Mr. Trump’s comments.
    • In New York: A wave of xenophobia and violence has been compounded by the economic fallout of the pandemic, which has dealt a severe blow to New York’s Asian-American communities. Many community leaders say racist assaults are being overlooked by the authorities.
    • What Happened in Atlanta: Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in shootings at massage parlors in Atlanta on March 16. The motives of the suspect, who has been charged with murder, are under investigation, but Asian communities across the United States are on alert because of a surge in attacks against Asian-Americans over the past year.

Mr. Wetzel said: “I support female chefs with all my heart (so much so that I married one). Anyone that would claim that I don’t support female chefs is lying.”

Many former employees said they put up with Mr. Wetzel’s offensive language, sexism and bullying, because a recommendation from him is a springboard to any cooking job in the world. But many others left midseason, or walked out midshift.

“There were countless times I tried to get upper management to bring in H.R. to deal with our problems,” said Anne Treat, 42, who was fired in September 2020 after confronting Mr. Wetzel. “There was no interest in why we were constantly losing employees.”

Going to Mr. Johnson, the longtime manager, was the only recourse for the many employees who clashed with Mr. Wetzel. But, they said, Mr. Johnson boasted about a “hands-off” management style that made it unnecessary for him to intervene, and never acted on complaints against Mr. Wetzel.

Mr. Johnson did not comment for this article, but Mr. Wetzel wrote, “Reid Johnson records, reports and acts on every complaint in the workplace in the appropriate manner.”

Mr. Wetzel added that the Willows has “an independent H.R. consultant available at all times,” but would not confirm when the person was hired. Employees said it was during the 2020 season, as the senior staff was resigning en masse and the Willows, like many workplaces, was forced to confront its institutional racism and other problems.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/27/dining/blaine-wetzel-willows-inn-lummi-island-abuse.html

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