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Responses to Bryan LeBlanc’s questions posted in the Torontoist:
“Why we have no memorandum of understanding or permit to use Dufferin Grove”: we are not a business. We try out ways to use our collective civic resources better, including our taxes, as they relate to the public commons. We also research what the blocks are, to citizen engagement.
“Keys to the park”: this is not uncommon, but varies in different parts of the city. Many places give keys so people can water park gardens. Key-holders for park buildings are not as common but they do exist – tennis clubs, soccer clubs, also e.g. Sorauren Park field house, which was renovated with a huge amount of inputs by residents. There are many park buildings which are just kept locked, for years already, to make sure they’re not used by anyone: One example. But in the former city of Toronto, citizens having keys, and buildings not sitting empty, has always been more common.
“We tore down interior walls without permission”: In 1996 we got the building inspected by the City and they agreed that the walls could come down, but we would have to raise the money for the City to do it. So a group of us did it for free instead, and the city backed that up by adding eye-level windows, which cost the City $6000 if I remember right. Note that very similar improvements were just done at Ramsden Rink changeroom, for $43,842. The difference is that the funders were MLSE, and that means they have their banner flying from every post, plus everything painted in the Maple Leafs colours. Dave Perkins from the Star says they also get reduced taxes on their sports buildings, but I don’t know much about that, yet. Plus the reno is a locker room instead of a neighbourhood social space, so there’s no card playing and no storybook reading by parents and no snacks, etc., single use instead of multiple use.
“We top up union staff wages”: no we don’t. The Local 79 part-time wages at the park range from around $9.50 an hour to $16 an hour; the Local 416 wages (zamboni drivers) range from about $27 to $30 an hour. None of those wages are augmented by CELOS stipends. CELOS contracts are for different hours and different tasks.
“Who benefits?” See for example community letters.
“Can I go to Dufferin Grove and set up a rival Friday Night Supper?” Unlikely, suppers are not like TV chef competitions (well, not yet, but you might want to approach a producer). However there are requests from all over town, and if you wanted to help other neighbourhoods set up such a thing, I bet you’d get lots of takers. Warning: it’s a lot of work. Ours was originally set up because Friday nights were always dismal at the rink and we wanted to see if there was a way to break up the mix of grouchy no-date youth by attracting some families. That worked, but it turned out to be bigger and longer-lasting than we ever expected.
“Don’t you just show up and do stuff?”: No. It’s planned out and scheduled because it involves so many people. There are always lots of unexpected things happening, which need flexible reactions. That’s why the coordinators have a really hard time getting out of there on time. But the basic work plan is scheduled pretty tightly, and cleared with everybody ahead of time.
“Into which bank account does the money flow?” Into the CELOS bank account. And back out into our projects.
“Who has signing authority?” All cheques have to be signed by two people, the secretary and the treasurer.
“How is that money disbursed?” By cheque if it gets into the account, but more often in cash. It all gets onto the daily count sheets but then lots goes out directly to pay for the groceries (mostly) , or for the skate laces, insoles, swim diapers, basketball meshes, sandpit shovels, etc. etc.
“When did the City direct staff to stop handling money?” Never directly. In 2009, management sent word that Dufferin Grove cash-handling was a problem and that it would have to conform to the city’s cash-handling policy. To drive the point home, management sent everyone the city’s fraud policy. At management’s request, Dufferin Grove staff prepared a report on how cash is handled at Dufferin Grove, including how it’s recorded. This report was submitted but no comment came back and it appears to have been shelved. Just in case it was forgotten, Dufferin Grove staff have submitted it twice more, but still there’s been no comment on the details.
“It’s quaint and folksy that you call your revenue cookie money": well, it’s also bread money, mini-pizza-money, hot dog money, perogie-money, and so on. You are probably familiar with the way food is paid for, e.g. Friday Night Supper. Lots of people choose to pay an extra quarter or even only an extra dime per item. When you consider how many cookies and mini-pizzas are made at the park, it’s no wonder it adds up. If you laid those little food items end-to-end, they would go very far. At the same time, the cost of groceries for all that stuff also add up fast. Since we’re not a business, we don’t buy most supplies wholesale. Instead we’re a supporter of local business, i.e. No Frills and the bulk store, as well as of the farmers’ market. Not a bad ecology. But if you do decide to set up a rival pizza day or supper, you’ll be surprised of how much of your money goes on supplies.
Since running zamboni cafes or playground snack bars is not really what CELOS wants to do in the long run, we are looking forward to the day when the City will begin to work with us, to integrate such ideas into a few other places, where City staff could run them and the extra, such as it is, could go to pay for the extra staffing. This is a challenge for city staff because of what it requires – not prohibition, but making something work well. Much harder (but much more fun, too).
“Is such work within the parameters of the Collective Agreement and their job descriptions?” The job description of Local 79 part time workers specifies a number of tasks and “other duties as assigned.” That’s broad enough. Across the city, Local 79 job descriptions are not yet harmonized, and that’s a huge task. The new job descriptions are being hammered out between only two parties – the union and City management. The third element is missing: the public, for whom both management and the union supposedly work. Management says that they are “the agent on behalf of the public” in these negotiations, but we don’t agree. What results is often bored, underemployed part-time staff as in this example: Christie Pits
In the case of food preparation and serving, Local 79 workers had that as a job for years until the city decided to outsource it. At Dufferin Grove no one does ONLY food, and indeed food serving is often connected with youth work, so it’s a different kind of work structure. But it is not in contravention of the current collective agreement and it must not be ruled out in future.
“Are you saying that no members of the bargaining unit receive funds from the operations in the park?” Sure they do, when they’re working for CELOS. Local 79 workers can work for CELOS during those times when they are not scheduled to work for the City. Or they can (and do) work as translators, or dancers, or teachers, or pastry cooks –whatever can supplement their part-time income.
A CELOS contract could involve working at the Archives, or at other parks, or going to meetings at City Hall, or working on a project at Dufferin Grove. There’s a big variety of work to do, with lots of room for creativity. That’s why Local 79 workers are drawn to it in their off-city hours.
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