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News 1130 reported today that Bon Wong, proprietor of well-known East Van eatery Bon’s Off Broadway, received the Bad Boss Award from the Employee Action Rights Network (EARN).

Bon’s serves greasy spoon-style chinese and diner food, but is relied upon by many East Vancouverites (including myself) for its answer to a hangover cure on a plate: the $2.95 breakfast special. Two eggs any style, bacon/ham/sausage, toast, and hash browns (INSIDERS TIP: ask for garlic & onion in the hash browns. sends them to another level!) smothered in enough grease to coat your stomach and send you to the bathroom before the day’s over.

“One of the ways the costs are so low or the prices are so low perhaps is that people aren’t being paid what they’re legally entitled,” says EARN’s chairman Stephen Von Sychowski.

According to EARN, one current and one former employee have alleged that Bon Wong pays his employees under the table, below minimum wage and offers no overtime or vacation pay.

A sworn statement from a current employee says that bussers are paid $7 an hour (with a $10 tip-out from each server on shift) and servers are paid $6 an hour (plus tips). The statement also says the employee worked 11 an 12 hour shifts without overtime pay, was paid from the till, and provided with no T4 forms.

As reported in The Province, however, Wong denies the allegations against him. “A couple of staff got let go, so that’s where the story is coming from,” he told The Province. He upholds that liquor servers are being paid $9/hour and kitchen staff are being paid $10.25/hour.

Wong does, however, get tipped out $2 per hour from each server because he often works alongside them when business gets slammed during a rush.

“I’ve been working in this business for 30 years. If I was a bad boss, nobody would be working for me,” he told The Province.

I’d really like to look into this story further. Bon’s is a mainstay for my coworkers and I to converge and catch up or “recover” over the cheapest meal in town. Wong has always seemed like a pleasant man, rolling up his sleeves and working alongside his employees; it would be a shame were it all a sham, and I’m going to reconsider supporting a business which mistreats its employees.

However, working for an independent business owner myself, I understand that sometimes it’s hard to make ends meet and employers sometimes need to cut corners temporarily and employees need to either accept that and have some flexibility or quit if they’re unhappy with it. I can’t speak for what the conditions at Bon’s are like, obviously, but I know I’ve had to sit out late or bounced paycheques from my employer. It was maddening at the time and going to the Labour Board has crossed my coworkers’ minds on more than one occasion… but the money came through eventually, and I’m willing to sacrifice temporarily if it means my employer can stay in business and I get to keep working at a job I love.

Image

(Muriel Marjorie, DTES poet and cover photo for the Heart of the City Festival program guide. Photo by David Cooper.)

The Heart of the City festival is showcasing the culture, heart and soul of the DTES.

The massive program guide includes over 80 events happening from October 24-November 4. Events include workshops, poetry reading, community dances, musical performances, films – and more.

A misunderstood creative community

For Terry Hunter, associate director of the festival, it’s a treat being able to showcase Vancouver’s most diverse neighbourhood.

“I’m so thrilled to be able to work with the community to put our voice and our culture onstage,” said Hunter in a phone interview on Thursday.

“We want to change perceptions of the community. Many people have a black and white perception of the Downtown Eastside as a drug-ridden neighbourhood full of crime … People don’t see who we really are.

The artists of the DTES may or may not call themselves artists in a professional capacity, but regardless of their stature, they create some of the most prolific art in Vancouver right now. Because many come from marginalized situations, they see art as a means to communicate their voice, struggles and lives with the community.

“It’s all about relationships” – Terry Hunter

Planning such an extensive and diverse festival is no easy task to undertake.

“The only deadline we have is to get the info on the program guide,” said Hunter.

The team that plans the festival takes an integrative approach. They actively book events or showcases themselves, often grouped under an umbrella theme like “Rock and Roll.” Often, communities themselves plan something, and the Heart of the City team supports them in whatever ways needed.

“They might say, ‘We want to do a show but we need a space,’ or, ‘We want to do a show but we don’t have enough money,’ and then we help them come up with that,” said Hunter.

Other times, a community event that’s already been planned will ask to be included in the festival. If the team feels the event is connected with the community or what the festival is all about, it will be included. And, if there are annual events, like the Carnegie Community Dance, they’re put under the umbrella of the festival programming too.

“We’re very integrated and such a part of the community … We’re talking to people about events we might do next year,” said Hunter. “It’s all about relationships with people in the community.”

Highlights and major events

Some of the top festival picks, like Barrio Flamenco: Flamenco for the People and SURVIVAL, STRENGTH, SISTERHOOD: Power of Women in the Downtown Eastside have already past.

Terry Hunter recommended a few of his top events over the phone on Thursday.

Building: a Social Writing Evening (Dunlevy Snackbar, 433 Dunlevy) with the DTES Thursday Writing Collective, directed by Elee Kraljii Gardiner, offers participants an opportunity to engage in a social writing exercise in an intimate, grassroots setting.

Big Jazz at the Heart of the City Festival (Ukrainian Hall, 805 E. Pender) brings the Downtown Eastside’s hot Carnegie Jazz Band together with the “King of Swing” Dal Richards and his seven piece Combo. This is one you’ll need to wear your dancing shoes for!

“Dal Richards is a legend in Vancouver’s jazz scene,” said Hunter. “My mother and father danced to Dal on top of the Vancouver Hotel in the 1940s.”

Terry Hunter is also a member of the Carnegie Jazz Band, which is led by Brad Muirhead.

OUT OF THE BASEMENT & V6A PROJECT PREVIEW (Carnegie Community Centre 3rd floor Gallery, 401 Main) includes the unveiling of the V6A Project, which highlights 11 years of theatre and music production in the DTES. A booklet of over 100 pages lends insight into all the productions profiled. Terry Hunter worked on this project as well.

“Personally, I’m really looking forward to sharing this book. It’s our way of thanking and honouring the community.”

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