Thursday, June 28, 2012

Union gives Toronto School Board workers $253,000 of our money

Toronto school board maintenance and construction workers have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in TigerDirect gift cards, courtesy of you and me
Moira Welsh and Kevin Donovan 
From the Toronto Star

Jimmy Hazel’s trades council has doled out hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in TigerDirect store gift cards to Toronto school board maintenance and construction workers, with at least some of the money coming from what an insider referred to as a Liberal government “slush fund.”
Hundreds of workers used the gift cards — in $300 and $500 denominations — to buy personal electronic products, cameras, DVDs and games or to put towards the purchase of computers at electronics retailer Tiger Direct. At least $253,000 in cards went out the door, though it may be double that amount.

It’s the latest revelation in a growing problem facing the Toronto District School Board, and now the provincial government. Earlier Star stories have revealed the high cost of work by the 900-strong Maintenance and Skilled Trades Council, which has an exclusive contract with the school board. Installing a pencil sharpener was $143; a simple electric outlet almost $3,000.
Meanwhile, the public board is facing a budget crunch and must make millions of dollars in education cuts. Parents, principals and some trustees have deluged the Star with concerns. The TDSB has said it is aware of the problems but has done little in response.
Hazel told the Star in an email answering questions about the TigerDirect gift cards that the decision on how to distribute the money was made by his trades council and TDSB brass and the money was used to help workers increase their use of “information technology.” He referred the Star to the TDSB for all other questions.
The TDSB called it a “fund for professional development” and said it was to be used by “education support workers.” The Liberal government said it was up to the TDSB to make sure the money is properly spent.

An ongoing Star investigation has found that the money that purchased the gift cards originated with a special fund set up by the Liberal government. Over the last few years, the province has provided more than $17 million to school board workers across Ontario, intended to be used “to enhance professional development and training opportunities for education support workers,” according to documents obtained by the Star.
The Star has asked the provincial education ministry to provide the parameters for these payouts, but staff for Education Minister Laurel Broten did not provide an answer.
According to 2008 provincial and school board documents, the money was intended to help the members of unions who work in schools “improve student achievement.” The 2008 documents focus on training; the plan was for support workers to take courses. Some money went to social workers in schools, some to caretakers and cafeteria workers. The Liberals said in a news release at the time that the money would “reduce gaps in student outcomes and increase confidence in publicly funded education.”
Trades council chief Hazel used the money to open the doors on a shopping spree at TigerDirect, the U.S.-based electronics retailing giant that sells both online and out of stores. The trades council said in a note to workers that the money could be used to “subsidize the purchase of computer and related peripheral equipment.”
In a 2009 trades council document, Hazel announced that each permanent member of the TDSB council would receive a $300 Tiger Direct card “with their name and account number printed on the card.” TigerDirect was chosen because all TDSB staff already received discounts and free delivery from the retailer.
“You may go to any TigerDirect store and look at the products or look at their website before purchasing,” Hazel’s council note to staff read. Only the trades council’s 600 permanent workers (the others are temporary workers) were eligible. One worker interviewed by the Star said he received two of the $300 cards.

More: Popular TDSB principal backed by his association
Another, an electrician, told the Star he learned about their “gift cards” during a union meeting.
“We thought it was a present from the union, you know, the union got a nice thing for me,” said the worker, who did not want his name used because he fears repercussions from his bosses.
The electrician said he bought a camera but most of the workers used their cards for home electronics.
“I don’t think anybody ever understood that it was for professional development. That was never expressed to us,” he said.
A former TDSB chair called the money a “professional development slush fund” paid for by the Liberals. The chair, like many former and current trustees, spoke on condition of anonymity because he fears repercussions from the trades council. One principal who spoke out was threatened by Hazel that he would lose his job.
In a previous story, the Star revealed that Hazel’s trades council workers have often campaigned for Liberal MPPs and that the council has provided significant donations to MPPs and trustees.
In addition to the $300 cards which the union said it was passing out in 2009, trades council documents show that it handed out $500 TigerDirect cards in 2006. The documents do not link those payments to the Liberal government but simply describe the money as coming from the trades council’s “professional development fund.” Those $500 cards were also made available to about 600 workers.
The TDSB did not immediately respond to a question about the total value of the 2006 TigerDirect cards. Board spokesperson Shari Schwartz-Maltz did say that the 2009 professional development amount came to $253,200.
Provincial education ministry spokesman Grahame Rivers said the TDSB has the power to ask the trades council “how the money was spent.” {Mind you, if the province is giving a whack of money to the school boards, it’s their responsibility to make sure the boards are spending the money for professional development, not just giving it to their union friends. - Brian}

No comments:

Post a Comment