Monday, December 25, 2006

Vancouver Public Library stays open Christmas Day

What do you do on Christmas Day when you have no money but time to kill between free turkey dinners on the Downtown Eastside?

You go to the library.

"I'm glad the libary is open," one guy said as he walked into the Vancouver Public Library in the Carnegie Centre. "Everything else is closed."

The Library is paying a staff person to keep the library open, one of those Library Technicians who don't cost as much as a real librarian. She is not actually alone though. The Carnegie security guards are hanging around in the lobby just outside the wide open doors of the library.

The Library staff person looks sullen on Christmas. She's twenty-something; she looks like she's of hispanic descent. But the thing that stands out most about her is that she does not go out of her way to fuck with people. Not like the other woman who worked there for 20 years, who I haven't seen lately. She was a middle-aged, white woman with dyed blonde hair. She was wicked. You wouldn't want her around on Christmas.

This woman was rude to a Carnegie regular who works as a fork lift operator in an nearby fish plant -- $14 an hour, non union -- when she was checking out his books. So he told her that he was finding her rude. I believed L.M.'s version of events because this woman has been rude to me to; she's rude to everybody.

According to L.M., the wicked library worker responded to his complaint by marching out to the lobby to complain to Security about him. I believed that part of his story too because that's the way the Library staff and most other unionized staff at Carnegie operate: they've long ago forgotten the "enjoy working with people" emphasis on their resumes; they more often than not opt to call security rather than talk things through with Downtown Eastsiders. And if there are complaints about their work performance, who they gonna call? CUPE, to cover their asses. That's what they pay union dues for.

But even the security men were getting fed up with this wicked Libary worker asking them to run interference over every little thing. So one of the security guards, after listening to her and showing her the utmost respect, said under his breath to L.M., "What did you say to that bitch?" I laughed when L.M. told me. Bitch is a sexist word that I would be the first to say is best avoided. But I'll make this one exception.

There is another Library staff person, Johann, who worked earlier today. Johann, is generally respectful toward the public. But one evening a few months back, he was playing a game of chess with his pal at the end of the check-out counter when a man farted at the nearby open window. Johann jumped up and ordered the guy to leave, according to eye witnesses. 'I told you before not to do that!', Johann yelled. The guy yelled that Johann should take a walk through Canada Packers sometime. Johann kept telling him to leave the library and the buy, obviously feeling humiliated, kept repeating the Canada Packers suggestion. Johann called security who escorted the farter out of the Library. The security guards and the library clerk are both CUPE and the farter knew and the witnesses knew that he has no recourse.

But today there was no trouble in the Library. There were candy canes and an assortment of other candies provided free at the check-out counter, a tell tale sign that today was a special day. There seemed to be a temporary suspension of the practice by staff of having Security bully people who talked back or farted, people who could only wish for the protection afforded by union dues. They are no match for CUPE members for whom every day is Christmas.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Labour Christmas dinner and the secretaries Santa Sinclair trampled with the reindeer hooves

Come Christmas Eve in Vancouver, you can generally count on three things. It will be pissing down rain, there will be pumpkin pie for dessert at the Labour Christmas dinner, and Jim Sinclair of the BC Fed will turn up at the dinner wearing a Santa hat. The pumpkin pie is the one I look forward too.

The annual Labour Christmas dinner is free so each year Vancouver’s underclass floods through the doors of the Maritime Labour Hall. Many arrive on a special City bus that departs every half hour from the Carnegie Centre and other spots on the Downtown Eastside. The destination sign on the front of the bus inoffensively reads, "Happy Holidays".

Tonight, there was a live band at the dinner with not a bad sound. A guy in the band announced that they were the "Precursor to Santa."

The dinner was hot, served out of steam trays by union people. The dressing was excellent this year; last year when it was doughy and looked a bit like slices of banana bread. The servers at the buffet table dishing the food onto people's plates were friendly, really warm.

Like every year, lots of women with children showed up, rough-talking women who yell at their kids a lot. "Classic lumpen", a friend of mine would say. Lots of people that you regularly see at Carnegie Centre also showed up. And of course the people who are fixtures at free food places all year long were there. There was enough food for 1100 people this year, a union guy said as he watched the line up of people filing in. "We'll keep serving 'til the food runs out".

Servers scurried around the floor of the hall too, some men but more women, all eager to hand you a piece of pumpkin pie off their tray, or a juice box or a mandarin orange, or get you a tea or a coffee with carnation evaporated milk. They were never the slightest bit gruff. Lots of goodwill. "The human side of human beings," was what the late American union organizer Harvey Jackins, who had sweated in front of brass knuckled goons, would call this.

Did I mention that Jim Sinclair was there? He wore the same Santa Claus hat that he wears every year, and a red sweater. He was schmoozing, not with the underclass so much; he was focusing more on union people, even hugging a few. “You dance,” as Brian Mulroney used to say, “with the lady what brung ya."

Every year I see Sinclair in his Santa hat and every year I think of the secretaries that allegedly got trampled under the hooves of his reindeer. In the 1990's, CUPE Local 116 at UBC was staffed exclusively with non-union secretaries. Pardon me, a secretary is now an "administrative assistant", just like Christmas is now the "holiday season". Two secretaries to two consecutive Presidents of this Local were fired after speaking up about working conditions as well as, in one case, repeated bouts of office rage by a CUPE Vice President. Other reasons were given, though, to justify the firing of these two secretaries, Kim S. and Ann S., the latter who had worked for CUPE for 12 years and had begun pressuring CUPE to keep what she claimed had been a verbal promise to provide her with a pension. She eventually sued CUPE for a pension.

An accountant who, unlike the secretaries, had been on contract for roughly a decade was fired after breast cancer made her less efficient. Again, that was not the reason given. Another secretary to the President, who often worked without benefits any union worker would expect, quit. She alleges that her health was damaged from performing double and triple workloads. But she left with a glowing letter of reference from Vice President Paul Cooke.

Jim Sinclair, President of the BC Federation of Labour, and Barry O'Neill, President of CUPE Regional, and other CUPE officials were sent a written summary of unfair labour practices to which these secretaries had allegedly been subjected, with a request that this issue be addressed. The secretary who signed the polite written material was shocked to discover that it had been turned over to the Vancouver Police as evidence – the sole evidence – that CUPE executives were victims of “criminal harassment”.

After being recruited by labour officials, VPD officers began an intimidation campaign at the home of this former secretary. It was made clear to her that she should never again write to labour officials about this issue. CUPE, she alleges, was sending a message not only to her but to her former co-workers not to pursue this issue. Police closed the case. "There had never been any evidence to charge me," says the secretary.

Shortly after police closed the case, Jim Sinclair was asked in writing by one of the secretaries to ensure that the letter addressed to him outlining unfair labour practices was expunged from VPD Property Office files. It was important to her that the BC Fed boss take that action to reassure women that pursuing concerns about labour conditions in a union office would not be considered a crime. Sinclair did not respond to the request, although his staff confirmed that he had received it, and has allowed the letter to remain in police files as evidence of wrongdoing. "Never once," says the secretary, "did Sinclair ever speak to me."

A copy of the documents in the VPD Property office as well as the police report was leaked to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer. A sort of early Christmas gift, one of those rare gifts that you know you can actually use.

More will be written about this case in the new year. Now is not the time. It’s Christmas.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Back after being hacked

The Downtown Eastside Enquirer appears to have became the victim of a hacker over the past week.

At first the hacker deleted the description of the blog, altered some of the settings, and deleted a couple of postings, including one entitled McFailure. The hacker also published a copy of a posting that had been stored under Draft.

The Enquirer responded by restoring the deleted material.

Then the hacker struck again. This time deleting the entire blog!

This hacking came after a Carnegie Board member twice verbally attacked a homeless Carnegie member whom he suspected was behind the blog. The Board member also verbally attacked a friend of the suspected blogger. The suspected blogger was again verbally attacked, twice, by a leftie activist who sometimes comes to the Downtown Eastside. Then Carnegie staff persons, one a CUPE member and the other a BCTF member, who had been criticized on the blog for repeatedly locking doors to publicly funded services, arranged to have the suspected blogger barred for a day from the Carnegie Learning Centre. (They would later upgrade the barring to a permanent one.)

Although Carnegie has for several months been blocking community access to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer on their computers, censorship has been stepped up over the past few days. Blogging capability -- access to -- has been completely blocked on several Carnegie computers. As a final effort to deter publication of the Downtown Eastside Enquirer, the suspected blogger was barred for life from the Carnegie Learning Centre by Ethel Whitty, the Director of Carnegie appointed by the City of Vancouver, and Lucy Alderson, a teacher and BCTF member. Alderson told him that he was barred for allegedly contributing to the Downtown Eastside Enquirer.

But despite setbacks, the Downtown Eastside Enquirer has, as Arnold would say, "cum bock".

Canada is not yet China.

[Most of the original postings will be restored over the next couple of days.]