Friday, May 28, 2010

Change Is Inevitable--Except in Vending Machines

In my school, teachers struggle with inadequate facilities like trailers, half rooms, and unventilated monstrosities even as classes take place outside and in the halls.  As if that weren't enough, Mayor Bloomberg's favorite snack company has come to town and set its machine right outside the worst classroom in the school.  Apparently, disrupting class is no problem as long as there are potato chips that need selling.

And it turns out potato chips are fine for kids as long as they're baked.  You see, if the empty calories and sodium don't arrive fried, they're good for you.  Who would've thunk it?

But it's OK.  Fortunately, the company is not unionized, and indulges in the sort of practices Mayor Bloomberg would like to see as the norm.  This story is from a few months back, but I just saw it--and here's who got selected:

Answer Vending, a Westchester-based firm, was ordered in June 2008 by the State Department of Labor to ante up $116,000. This included penalties and back pay to 21 employees it was found to have shortchanged. Answer executives didn't respond to questions last week, but Labor Department spokeswoman Michelle Duffy said the fines are still outstanding: "They haven't paid."

They sound like a fine bunch to me, just the sort of people our venerable leaders love to get into bed with.  And to help out, they've secured the services of Octagon Vending, the company that set up the Snapple deal, making sure Snapple alone could re-do its bid before short-changing the city of some 5-million dollars.   Naturally the Panel for Educational Policy voted to select this company.  Here are a few more of their bonafides:

What the workers did tell organizers was that they often had to work 50- and 60-hour weeks, without overtime, and that wages were often paid partly in cash. They received no benefits, they said. 

Now there's a company after Joel Klein's heart.  The unions say with card check they could organize in a flash, but President Change We Can Union Bust With has not managed to keep his promise to pass a bill enacting it.   So what does Octagon Vending do, exactly, besides deliver less cash than promised?

"We're paying them 15 to 18 percent of the contract, and it's not even clear what they're doing," said Patrick Sullivan, a public school parent who is Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's representative to the panel and who voted against Octagon. "There was no assessment of their prior performance."

The much ballyhooed Money for Nothing Dire Straits sang about.  But at least they gave it to the highest bidder, didn't they?

Education officials admitted last week that the formal contract authorization request that they submitted to the panel described the only unionized firm, Canteen Vending, as offering the highest guarantees for revenue to be paid to the schools. Canteen was rejected, the report stated, only because its "vending machine operation/monitoring systems are inferior to the competitors."

The department's spokesman said this was "a misprint." Wasn't this a pretty long and involved sentence for a misprint? "I have no idea what that's about," he said. And the statement that the losing bidder made the highest offer? That was a mistake, too.

Hmm...well, if The Department of Education says so, it must be correct.  After all, they never lie.  So let's just take them at their word.

But--do we believe the first thing they said or the second?

So many questions, so little time.  And so many contracts to dole out to union-busters.
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