Thursday, 20 July 2017

Unfair labor practices in the non-profit sector



Fredericton consultant Duncan Matheson has written an important account about the recent firing of Elizabeth Crawford Thurber from her job as Executive Director of Greener Village. (https://duncanmatheson.ca/blog/when-bad-things-happen-to-good-people-the-unfair-treatment-of-elizabeth-crawford-thurber)

In the story he recounts Thurber’s 30 plus years of work with the Fredericton Food Bank and then with the Greener Village after its opening.  It is worth taking the time to read the story to get some sense of the political games played by the Board of Directors of Greener Village.  Frankly, it casts a serious shadow on the local Seventh Day Adventist Church, especially in light of their presumed stated commitment to Christian principles.

Regrettably the story is not unique in the non-profit, poverty-alleviation world.  I have seen too many instances in recent time of staff members, especially Executive Directors of some of these non-profits being treated very poorly by their volunteer Boards of Directors, who universally seem to have minimal experience in management and are present on the Boards more because of who they know than what they know.

There seems to be a transformation that occurs with some of these Board members who perhaps suddenly feel (maybe for the first time in their lives) they have some power and make it their duty to treat the employees poorly.

Bullying is not unusual and there’s an expectation on the part of some Board members that when they say “jump”, the staff’s only response should be “how high”?  Quite frankly, that is bullshit.

Many Board members will tell you that they serve on the Boards as a way of giving back to the community, but they often forget that the poorly paid staff are doing exactly the same thing.  The only reason the staff stay in their jobs most of the time is because they care deeply about the people they serve and are prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to provide that service.

I know of one Executive Director who took a voluntary cut in pay to enable their organization to meet its obligations.  Later, after nearly eight years of service, the Board of Directors finally decided a pay increase was in order which amounted to less than .25% per year – that’s POINT-TWO-FIVE (one quarter of one) percent over nearly 8 years.  My understanding from someone else is that the Board congratulated itself on its generosity to that employee.

The Executive Director subsequently left the organization, taking valuable institutional knowledge and the Board made no attempt to convince the individual to stay.  The attitude seemed to be, “well, you’re replaceable”.  Or, “we can find someone else to do a better job.”  

Admittedly, not every Board member on every Board is like that, but there are far too many.

A huge part of the problem goes back to the “who you know” problem.  So many non-profits have to scratch the bottom of the barrel to find people willing to serve.  Often it’s a case of finding a name for nomination without worrying about whether that person knows anything or fits the goals of the organization.  When problems later develop, most often fingers are pointed at staff for their poor recruitment techniques.

The real problem is inept Board management where everyone except Board members are to blame for any problems that may develop.

Sadly Elizabeth Thurber Crawford’s case is the tip of the iceberg.  

Friday, 26 May 2017

Sometimes we forget the larger context



Monday was a horrific day for the people of Manchester, England.  A suicide bomber, intent on killing as many as possible, set off his explosives in the arena where a young American singer had just finished her concert.  22 people (men, women & children) died in that explosion and as of today (May 26) 66 remain in hospital, 23 of those in critical condition.

There was widespread grief and mourning in Manchester and throughout the UK and it seems throughout the western world as a number of countries opted to fly flags at half-mast to remember those killed in the blast.  The attack was condemned by various world leaders and became a leading news story on just about television newscast in the western world.

Meanwhile, the death count in Syria as of today (May 26) stands at 470,000.  55,000 children have died in the conflict. (http://www.iamsyria.org/death-tolls.html

Where are the thousands of people staging silent memorials for those 55,000 children?  Where are the mountains of flowers and teddy bears left in memorial of those children?  Where are the condemnations from the world leaders?  How many national flags are flying at half-mast to remember those children?

If I was Syrian, I would be thinking that the lives of those 55,000 dead children seem to matter less to the world than 22 people who attended a music concert in Manchester, England.  I would be wondering why so much attention is focused on one act of terrorism when six years of civil war have destroyed my cities, killed nearly half a million people and continue to rain death and destruction as of today (May 26).  

If I was a mother or father in South Sudan watching my children die from starvation in 2017, I would have to wonder why the lives of my children apparently are worth so much less than the lives of those people who died in Manchester?  I would wonder if it has something to do with the colour of my skin or the fact that I don’t speak English.  Meanwhile, I would hold my malnourished baby and slowly watch the child’s life slip away because we have no food.  I would wonder why all those people in England are praying to God when clearly God does not care about a dying child in South Sudan.

If I was the father of a young 23-year old black college graduate who had just joined the US Army, I might be wondering why the world is so focused on the death of 22 people in England and not care one whit about the stabbing death of my beloved son at the hands of a white racist in Maryland. Richard Collins III was scheduled to graduate the day after he was fatally stabbed by a white supremacist.  His murder was good for maybe one news cycle on the TV news and not on all newscasts – just a few.

We talk about the unfairness of this world.  These are just a few examples of how messed up we really are.  Donald Trump and his type are not the symptoms.  They’re the disease.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free



The story of Anne Frank has always resonated with me – a small family cowering in an attic room – fearing for their lives at the hands of the dreaded Gestapo.  We can only imagine the fear that the Frank family must have felt every time they heard trucks roll by or German being spoken on the Amsterdam street where they were hiding.  How many times they must have wondered why this was happening to them as they had committed no crime or offended anyone.  In the eyes of the Gestapo, the fact that they were Jewish was enough to condemn them.

Seventy years later, there are families living in the United States of America who are hiding in modern day attics, fearing every time they hear strange voices or see trucks and police cars on the street.  Like Anne Frank and her family, they know they will be taken away if they are captured and they may never see their children or mothers or fathers again. Their only crime?  Wanting a better life in what was once the land of welcome …

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

When I was in Laredo, Texas, I saw the Mexican workers come across the walking bridge on the Rio Grande every evening to collect the refuse from the streets of Laredo and then bring it back across the river to sell for a pittance.  Cardboard was an especially big ticket item – the boxes that we so easily discarded was gold for those folks.

All they wanted was a better life for themselves and their kids – not unlike the people who live in Laredo, Cleveland, Toronto, Halifax, London or Berlin.  In so many cases, driven to despair, they would find a way to cross the border without the proper papers (undocumented) and take up life in one of the American communities.  Often, they would do the work that other people didn’t want to do – cleaning, collecting the garbage, picking the lettuce or even potatoes in northern Maine.  They created new lives for themselves, married, had children and became members of the American mosaic.

All of that changed a couple of years ago when a billionaire (or so he says) Moslem and Latino-hating white supremacist announced his candidacy for the United States presidency.  He was originally dismissed by most pundits as a clown candidate who was in it only for the ego rush.  It was fun for the mainstream media to report every bit of garbage that came out of his mouth because as one of the major executives at CBS (CEO Leslie Moonves) said, it was good for the ratings.  The mainstream media got him elected.

But as the preparations for the election wound their way through the calendar, this white supremacist began to gain credibility and legitimacy in a segment of the US population where you didn’t have to scratch very deep to find long standing racism and hatred toward anyone who is not white and English speaking.  It’s too easy to draw a comparison with the Nuremberg Rallies of the 1930s but the same sort of frothing-at-the-mouth rabies began to appear in cities across the USA.  “Build the wall” became one of the movement’s rallying cries.

The numbers don’t lie.  From 2015 to 2016 the number of anti-Muslim hate groups in the US grew by 197 percent.  In a recent report, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) monitoring group found that the total number of hate groups in the US in 2016 grew to 917 from 892 a year earlier.

As the SPLC put it,

Trump’s run for office electrified the radical right, which saw in him a champion of the idea that America is fundamentally a white man’s country.  He kicked off the campaign with a speech vilifying Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers. He retweeted white supremacist messages, including one that falsely claimed that black people were responsible for 80% of the murders of whites.

“He … said that Muslims should be banned from entering the country. He seemed to encourage violence against black protesters at his rallies, suggesting that he would pay the legal fees of anyone charged as a result.”

The cork was out of the bottle.

Led by people far smarter than he is, he won the US election and he and his Trump, Inc. profiteers (perhaps privateers is a better description) took over the White House.

For anyone who thought the presidency would change him, only one observation: you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Now there is a man at the helm of the US government who is a proven liar, with an ego as big as the Burj Khalifa in Dubai who does not understand governing, who has zero knowledge of foreign relations, knows nothing about military power, cares nothing about the poor and probably has never read a book in the last 50-years.  He believes that “white is right” and that women are there for his sexual pleasure – as long as they have supper on the table when he gets home from work.  Oh, and he can’t think beyond 140-characters at a time.

The result?  Now you have families throughout the USA literally living in fear 24 & 7.  They are waiting for the jack-booted, blackshirts of the US immigration service to come crashing through the door and separate them from their loved ones – all to satisfy a 71-year old with blonde hair colouring and a fake tan who is a poster child for Propecia.

Canadians have no room for smugness.  We know too well that you don’t have to scratch very deep to find the same attitudes here.  Canadian racists may not be as open and hostile as their southern neighbours but already we’re hearing people wonder about the negative effects of immigration – conveniently forgetting that we are ALL immigrants from somewhere – whether an ice bridge across continents or a Lufthansa flight from Turkey.

Simplistic solutions offered by the alt-right crowd never work, but they are appealing to a lot of people.  

Something about “stand on guard for thee” comes to mind.

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Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The Vinyl Café



I’ve been a fan of Stuart McLean for a long time.  He’s the host of the CBC radio program, “Vinyl Café”, the stories and misadventures of Dave, the owner of the the world's smallest record store, where the motto is "We may not be big, but we're small."

The Vinyl Café is radio the way I like it – live and entertaining with a variety of content - something sadly lacking in today’s radio universe where continuous recorded music with advertising seems to be the norm.

Anyway, listening to the Vinyl Café has become somewhat sort of a tradition for me.  Tuesday evenings at 11pm, I would tuck into bed, turn on the radio and for an hour be entertained by some terrific writing, storytelling and music.

Sad news came late in 2016 when Stuart announced that the melanoma he had been fighting for some time had returned and he needed to take time away to focus on his treatment and therefore wouldn’t be producing any more shows for the time being.  He said that he didn’t feel right offering a continuing menu of reruns when other aspiring writers were out there looking for an opportunity.  It says a great deal about the man’s character and integrity.  Our prayers are with him as he takes on this health struggle.

I’ve never met Stuart but from listening to him, I get the impression that he’s a guy who you’d be proud to call a friend.  When I listen to his observations about the communities that he visits with the Vinyl Café tours, I hear a man who takes the time to meet people, get to know them and learn something about their local culture.  He makes those communities come alive in so many ways by talking about their eccentricities, local characters & customs and so much more.  He touches us on so many levels.  He is a master craftsman in the art of the written and spoken word.
 
I just recently bought several of his books and I’m looking forward to getting into those and experiencing more of the joy that he brings to the page.

You can imagine my disappointment last Tuesday night when I turned on the radio at 11pm, half-expecting to hear Stuart’s show.  Instead, I heard a woman launch in some sort of diatribe about the Canadian inclination to say “I’m sorry” a lot.  Her presentation, which apparently was an attempt at humour, was dripping with sarcasm and so far removed from the sort of atmosphere created by the Vinyl Café that I simply turned off the radio.  I face enough negativity in my daily life.  I do not need it cloaked as entertainment and certainly not as a replacement for a exceptional quality product such as the Vinyl Café.

Perhaps it’s the cultural divide between the baby boomers and the millennials or perhaps it’s an attempt on the part of some radio producer to reflect our societal cynicism but whatever it is, it has no appeal for me. 

I miss the Vinyl Café but I’ve just discovered that some of the shows are available via podcast, so that’s where I’ll be heading: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/podcasts/arts-culture/vinyl-cafe-stories/

Stuart has set a VERY high bar in terms of quality.  I want to continue to enjoy that!

Best wishes Stuart.