Friday, July 22, 2011

City's subsidized meals for poor being diverted to staff making five and six figure salaries

Today on CKNW, Mayor Gregor Robertson said that the City could not possibly find further places to make cuts in the budget as the City was already "goin' bare bones".

Bare bones?  City staff and management continue to fatten up on the heavily subsidized meals the City provides for them daily, even though they make five and six figure salaries.  These meals, meant for the poor, are a cut above a regular cafeteria food; they have a health food orientation.

Carnegie Centre provides these quality subsidized meals daily not only to it's own staff but to staff and managers from the surrounding poverty industry organizations on the Downtown Eastside.  And they provide similar, reportedly even higher quality, subsidized meals to staff and management at the Gathering Place, which is an organization downtown just off Granville St.  This City meal subsidy program provided as a staff and management perk has been going full tilt for decades.  Yet it was never been part of negotiated contracts.

Dan Tetrault, Carnegie's Assistant Director, is estimated to have received a minimum of $20,000 in meal subsidies over the two decades that he's worked at Carnegie -- that's a conservative estimate, based on him eating one subsidized lunch each work day.  Actually, people have seen him ordering up breakfasts, lunches, and dinners on a regular basis for years.  Tetrault is a CUPE member; we know that because he stood on the picket line during the last strike demanding more money and benefits.

These big earners pay no tax when they purchase these meals from Carnegie.  No HST.

For years Carnegie served a full dinner, your choice of meat or vegetarian, for $3.00 every evening at 5 o'clock, except for Saturdays when the meal was $2.00.  They also served a hearty lunch: an entre and a salad for $1.75.  Their salads are good, they have lots of greens in them; sometimes they have potato or beet salad as well.  And they served a daily breakfast for $1.75.  And for years you could get a healthy low-sugar snack for under a dollar: big date squares for eighty cents, muffins for 50 cents, fruit, yogurt, granola made in-house, etc.  They don't serve junk food, except for Blue Sky cola which is a little lower in sugar than regular colas.

Last year they raised the price of all meals by 25 cents at Carnegie.  The meals at the Gathering Place have always been a little more expensive than Carnegie; an evening meal there is $3.75.  They offer a similar range of healthy food as Carnegie.

A few years ago, a worker in the Carnegie cafeteria told me that they prepare 60 meals an evening and when they're gone, they're gone.  Last year, even more of those 60 meals went to yuppies.  The rock bottom prices at Carnegie were advertised in a two page spread about the Carnegie cafeteria in the Province newspaper.  It was like an infomercial, emphasizing the great service this cafeteria was performing by feeding the poor. According to one regular at Carnegie, the kitchen co-ordinator, Catriona Moore, didn’t want the prices published in the Province.  She was ignored.  The regular noticed a rush on “yuppies” after that.  “There are whole tables of them.”  

Whitty avoided mentioning that she helps herself to the meals on top of her over $100,000 salary -- she used to regularly show up for the Tuesday veggie burger with a choice of green or potato salad for $1.75 -- talked to the Province reporter about the helping hand the cafeteria gives to the poor, “They come, we accept them, we feed them.”  Too often she does not feed them.  The poor and homeless are routinely turned away at both Carnegie and the Gathering Place.  The working poor too -- people who get welfare but are allowed to earn a top up by doing odd jobs such as unloading trucks in Strathcona -- are often told the food is gone when they rush down to Carnegie after work.

A homeless guy was telling me the Sunday before last that he had arrived after 5 o’clock and the dinner at the Gathering Place was sold out.  He had been looking forward to the pork dinner “with those little potatoes”.  I asked him if the staff got their plates, and he said they had.

It's time for a two-tiered payment system at Carnegie and the Gathering Place.  People who aren't poor can pay double for a meal.  They will still be getting a bargain.  Try getting the hearty Carnegie lunch at a restaurant downtown for less than $10.  If unionized workers and management in the poverty industry paid more, they could help finance that cafeteria.

A two-tiered payment system would also ensure that the City is not draining customers from private sector  restaurants in the City.  Waves coffee shop next door to Carnegie looks like it's going bankrupt.  It's close to empty much of the time.  They've shrunk their hours.  At Waves, they charge $7 for a burrito or wrap, before tax.  And you don’t get a salad with it.  Waves also competes with the Carnegie coffee shop which sells fresh ground coffee for 60 cents per take-out cup.

Carnegie could model on Quest Food store for the poor just up the street on Hastings, which  requires proof that you are poor.  They make that proof easy to get.  They accept a form letter signed by any staffer at a Welfare office confirming that you qualify for food assistance -- these forms are apparently available from any  front desk receptionist.  Quest will also accept a letter from other organizations that cater to poor people.  They will even take a letter from a Minister.  When you give them your letter, they give you a card that you are expected to show each time you shop.  That system hasn’t stopped a couple of Carnegie workers, a security guard and a former teacher, from relentlessly sneaking in there for the rock bottom prices.  But overall the system seems to work; everybody I know who shops there is dirt poor.

Carnegie wouldn’t have to hire extra staff to issue these cards.  They already have front desk staff who give out membership cards as part of their job description.  They indicate on your membership card whether you are a Senior qualifying for extra services -- I think they put a stamp on the cards of Seniors -- so they could put a stamp on the cards of people who qualify for subsidized meals.  Or give them a card in a different colour.  On the "bare bones" City budget, incidentally, these front desk workers were built a brand new desk with a tall back, like a throne, after we referred on this blog to the “surfer boy” who sits at the front desk looking at the web.  It was built at a time when the City claimed to be looking for efficiencies to save money.

When Mayor Robertson commented today about the City of Vancouver operating on a "bare bones” budget, he was responding to BC Conservative leader John Cummins’ statement that the new gas tax could be avoided if municipalities cut 5% off their budgets and allocated that money to the Evergreen Line.  Robertson called Cummins “ignorant”.  But what Cummins said is not far removed from what the homeless man who missed out on the pork said: the City throws money at Carnegie Centre and the Gathering Place and they don’t seem interested in the fact that staff inside are helping themselves.

Trees at Carnegie Dying under "Green" Vision Council

Under "Green" Vision Council, the life is being choked out of trees on the outdoor patio at Carnegie Centre at Main & Hastings.

The patio trees are surrounded by steel grates which they have outgrown.  The grates are now sticking into the tree trunks, choking the trees.  One guy, a nature lover, smoking on the patio a couple of weeks ago, said he complained to Carnegie Director Ethel Whitty about the fact that the trees were being choked and those grates had to be adjusted.  Nothing was done.

Mayor Robertson and the Vision/COPE Council have kept Whitty, in a job that pays over $100,000 even though she has consistently failed to address issues raised by Downtown Eastsiders.  She gets millions of dollars a year to run Carnegie and she can't manage to loosen the grates around the outdoor trees.

Meanwhile, the City is fining health food millionaire businessman, Aaron Stevens, for cutting trees in his backyard.  Many of those trees amounted to dead brush in the backyard of a property that the previous owner had left unattended for years.

I wish NPA Candidate Mike Klassen would answer questions.

I always enjoyed reading Mike Klassen's blog, City Caucus. Sometimes it was funny.  I never forgot the picture he ran of Mayor Robertson hiding under a desk.   But now that Klassan is running for City Council under the NPA banner, I wish he would answer questions.

I heard CKNW's Mike Smythe interview Klassan today for the second time, and both times he avoided answering questions.  Today Klassan criticized Mayor Robertson for "talking out of both sides of his mouth".  Klassan took the position that while Robertson was an MLA, he was a crusader for Cambie St. business owners who lost revenue when rapid transit was under construction on their door steps, but in his current role as mayor, Robertson doesn't seem to be too concerned about the Hornby St. business owners who lost over $2 million in revenue when a bike lane was rammed through.  Smythe asked Klassan if he would compensate those business owners.  Klassan wouldn't say yes or no.

In a previous interview with Smythe, Klassan was criticizing Mayor Robertson over the Hornby St. bike lane. Smythe asked him if he would get rid of the lane.  Klassan wouldn't say yes or no.
If Rob Ford were running in Vancouver, he would have a straight answer for both those questions.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Gathering Place: Are staff being hired based on sexual orientation?

Are staff at the Gathering Place being hired based on sexual orientation rather than on their ability to do the job?

I have never set foot in the Gathering Place, a centre downtown which was modelled on Carnegie Centre, and set up by a former Carnegie Director, Diane Mckenzie.  It has more young people amongst its clientele than Carnegie though.  And it caters to many homeless and street people, a population that is predominantly male.

One would think that a primary criterion for getting hired at GP  would be to have a comfort level with the clientele.  But men who use the Centre are resentful about the contempt they're encountering there.   One man who regularly goes to GP  was telling me about a lesbian staffer. "She says "womyn" not "women", and when I talk to her she won't look me in the eye.  She doesn't want to look me in the eye because I'm a man".
Another man who uses the GP says that a butch lesbian who works there is gruff and hardened in the way she speaks to people when she's clearing out the dining area.  Like she thinks that getting paid over $20 hr. to work with the poor, is a license to treat them with disrespect.  These complaints aren't coming from women, all are from men.

These guys don't sit around gay bashing.  They don't care if a gay or lesbian gets hired, as long as they're qualified.  But they believe that the over representation of gays and lesbians on staff at GP is an indication that somebody is getting their friends hired.  They listed off all of the employees who were lesbian or gay.  One guy explained that to get a job with a City of Vancouver, people used to say that you had to have a relative working there.  Now it seems as if your sexual orientation can get your foot in the door.  (Having a relative can still help though.  Skip Everall at Carnegie reportedly hired his son to work under him.)

Hiring based on sexual orientation rather than merit damaged Ray Cam Community Centre when it opened it's doors years ago to cater to the youth in the social housing next door, a real ghetto.  The staff was predominantly white lesbians, most of whom had terrible people skills.  They were supposed to be offering  role modelling to the youth, many of whom were native, hispanic, and black males.  A few years later, I ran into a guy who used to lift weights there and he told me how great it was at Ray Cam now and I should drop by.  I told him that I had long ago stopped going there because the lesbians treated me like I was subhuman.  He knew instantly what I was talking about and said, "Oh, they got rid of that group".

I'm wondering if the City has shifted it's old Ray Cam hiring practices to the GP.  These practices are one step removed from a casting couch.

One thing that all the men sitting talking to me about GP agreed on was that, "The staff there have eeeeeasy jobs."  One guy qualified that assessment by noting that the woman who works in the laundry does work for her pay.  Anyone can take their laundry there and get it done for free.

One thing I noticed when sitting with these guys is that they feel the same powerlessness at GP as people at Carnegie Centre.  They knew that taking any kind of stand in the face of staff mistreatment would get them  nowhere because CUPE -- Cover Up for Poor Employees -- would cover asses.  And these guys don't read blogs.

Pivot Loses File of Downtown Eastside Man Allegedly Assaulted by Concord Security Guards

Doug King, a Pivot lawyer, has just announced that he is representing three low income men suing Fusion Security for allegedly brutally attacking them at Harbour Centre mall.  Security guards allegedly took the men to an area with no security cameras and beat them
Hopefully Pivot can keep track of the file.

Pivot lost the file of "J", a Downtown Eastsider who they were representing in a law suit against Concord security guards at Metrotown Mall.  "J." was brutally assaulted by the guards.  He had been out in Surrey working casual on the night shift in a warehouse -- topping up his welfare; he's allowed to legally earn $500.  When he got off in the morning, he went for a couple of beer with a co-worker and then went to the company office at  Metrotown mall to pick up his cheque.  He made the mistake of chatting to a security guard who may have smelled the beer on his breath.  The guard told him to leave the premises, which "J." did.  J walked quite a distance to a small park, thinking he was off the premises, only to hear a guard order another guard to jump him.  J's nose and teeth were broken and he had a long scab down the front of his nose.  He now wears dentures.  There were credible witnesses to the assault, people who had been walking by and yelled at the guard to stop.  An ambulance came but J. didn't use it.

King took the case.  He told J. he was optimistic about getting a settlement.

When J.A. phoned King for an update, he said the security firm was not being cooperative.  But Pivot had the police report and the witness statements.  King later announced that he was leaving the country for a year and he would pass the file on to another lawyer at Pivot.  The woman who was supposed to inherit the file at Pivot then told "J" that the file had been lost.

"J" phoned back several times to get an update but didn't get a response.

Where did all of this confidential personal information -- forms had been filled out at Pivot -- about "J"end up?  Did somebody leave it on lunch counter at Waves?  The statute of limitations on the case has now expired.

On their website, Pivot states that in talking to Downtown Eastside residents, "[W]e’ve heard a lot of stories about harassment and abuse by private security guards, and after hearing several similar stories about negative interactions between private security guards at Harbour Centre from both mall employees and low-income people, we knew we needed to take action on this case."

Myself and other contributors to this site support Pivot's decision to sue Fusion.  But the same stories abound about public security guards at Carnegie and other organizations on the Downtown Eastside.  Pivot doesn't even mention them.  It's almost as if public sector unions pay protection money so that Pivot will look the other way.  I wonder how much Pivot gets in donations from unions.

I wonder if Fusion could add to their defense the fact that Pivot is advertising for residents to bring them cases about private security guards, and demonstrating blatant bias by giving a wink 'n a nod to abuses by public security guards in the same neighbourhood.  Pivot activist-lawyers put up posters throughout the Downtown Eastside, even on the walls of Carnegie Centre just feet from where public security guards routinely verbally or physically abuse the poor, encouraging people to give them cases against private security guards.  ["J" never reads posters; he has complained in the past about missing events because he never reads posters.]  Maybe Fusion will have the money to expose Pivot biases because Downtown Eastsiders don't.