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.