Monday, November 16, 2009

CUPE Wants Your Last Cappuccino

For years, CUPE and Vancouver City managers at Carnegie Centre have functioned in synch, like one giant Leona Helmsley inflicting cruelty on "the little people". Now it looks as though Leona's got an auto-immune disorder.

Paul Faoro, head of CUPE Local 15 which represents inside City workers, was on CKNW radio yesterday accusing the City of being "over-managed". He wants to see the City cut the jobs of managers, not just unionized workers. Faoro was responding to what he called, "the $60 million question": Who will lose their jobs as the City faces a $60 million budget shortfall and Council is determined to avoid serious residential tax hikes. So far, all of the jobs Faoro has seen slated to be cut are those of unionized workers. Yet there is one manager for every nine unionized workers, he says. Faoro believes that the City intentionally hires excess managers, so that they can do the work when CUPE strikes.

I agree with Faoro. I've repeatedly stated on this blog that Carnegie Centre is grossly over-managed. When managers have time to roll back the right of a homeless man to sit as an elected official, or the right of a woman to ask a male supervisor his name when he has made a decision to ban her from the building for raising the issue of sexism, their ample idle time has become the devil's playground. Either Ethel Whitty or Dan Tetrault should go.

Behead Leona.

That's Faoro's second choice though. First, he is eying the little people who pay taxes. He wants them to swallow a residential tax hike of 5%. He argues that a study has shown that Vancouver residents want to keep services such as libraries and community centres, and are willing to pay for them. Unlike Faoro, I don't see it as either/or. Tax hikes aren't necessary to maintain City services at current levels, if the fat, the morbid obesity, is trimmed. Either Whitty or Tetrault, for starters.

Faoro argued that a 5% property tax hike would be $50 a year. He said it merely amounts to "a few less cappuccinos". That's one way of describing it. I've heard it described other ways. Death by a thousand cuts. Incrimentalism.

Attempting to create common ground with the radio audience, Faoro noted that he too is a homeowner, that if there were a 5% residential tax hike, he too would feel it. He doesn't mention that it would feel good at his house: with the union dues flowing, he would get his usual raise, his usual hike in take-home pay. He could buy a round of cappuccinos at Waves coffee shop on Pender St., where CUPE members from Carnegie grab them between human rights abuses.

I almost got taken in during Faoro's bonding moment, but I know too much. I covered the story of the non-union secretaries hired by CUPE Local 116 to staff their executive offices. I learned how those secretaries had been fired, one after the other for daring to speak up about the fact that they were being run into the ground with overwork. One took CUPE to court when they allegedly reneged on promise to give her a pension. When the only one who hadn't been fired spoke up in support of the others, CUPE arranged for police officers who didn't even have jurisdiction at Local 116 to do them a favour. That favour was to visit the secretary at her home and warn her that CUPE wanted her to just shut up.

Faoro knows about those brass knuckles tactics but he's never taken a stand, even though he has the ear of CUPE boss Barry O'Neill. Faoro attends CUPE conventions and when O'Neill --- who he is reportedly angling to replace -- and the other union brass set the agenda, the secretaries are never on it.

One of those secretaries owns a house in Vancouver. Imagine that, paying a mortgage on a non-union wage while being run into the ground with overwork. When Faoro asks her to turn over her last cappuccino, I can just hear her:

"From my cold, dead, hands."

Thanks for the Grapes, Jimmy.

Photo: Steven, a cashier at Superstore

At Metrotown Mall, Superstore has lower food prices, but Save On Foods has better customer service. In fact, the customer service at Save On is amazing.

I was at Metrotown on Saturday doing some shopping, and I bought some grapes on sale for $1.78 a pound at Save on Foods.

When I got home, and looked through my shopping bags, I didn't have that bag. So the next day, I phoned Customer Service at Save On and asked if they'd found my bag. I said I was going out that way again so if they'd found the grapes, I'd pick them up. They hadn't. "It doesn't matter," I told the clerk, "they were only $1.78" -- I remembered the total because it had been been the same as the price per pound. The clerk told me to drop by and he'd replace them.

And he did.

Contrast that with Superstore at Metrotown. A former Downtown Eastsider was telling me in early November about her encounter with the cashier from hell at Superstore. His name was Steven. I told her that if she got his photo, I would write him up.

When the customer was going through the check-out, Steven treated her like a shoplifter. He wanted to check her shopping bag. Fair enough: she was carrying a Superstore bag with her lunch in it. When she didn't object to him checking it, he lost interest. "He didn't open it, he just squeezed my pita sandwich. And he made a face, like yuck."

With all this fuss, Steven forgot to ask the customer if she wanted a plastic bag for her groceries. So after she paid, she asked him for one, but by this time he was on to the next customer. "He said no," she exclaimed. "He wouldn't give me one," she said, shaking her head in amazement. I agree with her that this is odd, as I've had busy cashiers at Superstore forget to ask me if I want a plastic bag, so they just hand me one instead of getting bogged down over five cents.

Steven did eventually toss this customer a bag, reluctantly. "I was tired of him blaming me so I said, 'It was your mistake, you know.' "

After packing her groceries, she realized she needed a second bag. "I wanted to double-bag [the groceries]; they were heavy." Steven told her she couldn't have another bag, and he turned back to his customer. So she spotted a plastic bag lying on the floor. "It was dirty; people were trampling over it." She picked it up and was putting her other bag into it, when Steven turned around. "Soooo, you took one anyway," he said accusingly. "He was livid." She told him she had picked it up off the floor.

Steven demanded that she pay him five cents for that bag and another five for the other bag. "I pay for bags there all the time but I'm not going to pay for a filthy bag off the floor."

Steven called the supervisor. The supervisor defended Steven. She said all bags had to be paid for. "Not a dirty one off the floor", the customer recalled saying. "Yes," said the supervisor, even a dirty bag must be paid for. But the supervisor let it go, this time.