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.