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In UN Master Plan, Layoffs in Cafe Hurt Health, Workers Say, CMP Spin Omits Safety Questions and Budget Sleight of Hand

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 5, updated below -- In the UN's Capital Master Plan renovation, there are been bedbugs, there have been relocations to windowless rooms. Now there are layoffs, beginning in the UN cafeteria. Inner City Press first reported about this possibility back in May 2009, here. Last week, Inner City Press was told by cafe staff that on October 2 pink slips would arrive.

 The effect was visible on October 5. There were fewer workers, and hot food at the steam table was discontinued at 5 p.m., rather than 7:30. In between the two, the offer was only of French fries and fried meat. "They're trying to make everybody fat," one of the remaining workers told Inner City Press. "Please write about it." Consider it done.

A UN lunch, with UNDP's Clark, layoffs and development not shown

  Meanwhile at the UN's noon briefing on Monday, rather than answer the outstanding questions about the CMP -- for example, why its "associated costs" are not included in the budget the Secretary General has submitted to the General Assembly -- the UN presented an upbeat update, about work on the new and temporary General Assembly building, asbestos removal and the ombudsman's relocation.

  Despite another read out, about bombing deaths at the UN World Food Program in Pakistan, there was nothing said about safety in New York. Inner City Press last week reported on testimony about the lack of blast film on the UN's all glass "swing space" on Madison Avenue. Other staff have written in, saying that such film is missing in other UN outbuildings. Watch this site.

Update of October 6: at Tuesday's noon briefing, days after Inner City Press asked for a response to the Rio Group's criticism in an open meeting of the Fifth (Budget) Committee of what it calls the non-inclusion of the UN Capital Master Plan's associated costs in the budget, and after it wrote about the Staff Union's criticism regarding blast protection at 380 Madison Avenue in a meeting of the High Level Management Committee, spokesperson Michele Montas read this into the record:

One more note about the Capital Master plan to answer some questions asked. About Security at 380 Madison Avenue, even though we usually do not comment on measures taken so as not to compromise the security of our staff, this instance is an exception, because erroneous information has been circulating in the media already.

Before leases were signed, and before buildings were occupied after fit-out, all swing space locations were cleared by the Department of Safety and Security. At 380 Madison Avenue, the windows of the floors occupied by UN staff are covered with blast resistant film.

On associated costs, in its resolution A/RES/63/270, the General Assembly decided “that the approved associated costs for the capital master plan will be financed from within the approved budget of the capital master plan unless otherwise specified by the General Assembly.” The CMP stated last year and has stated again this year that they will continue to seek costs savings and attempt to absorb the associated costs. However, the CMP is not optimistic that they will be able to absorb all the associated costs.

  While the admission about associated costs is appreciated -- still to come: contingencies -- the comment about inaccurate media report merits a same day response. Inner City Press reported on what the Staff Union said in the HLMC meeting. If the UN Department of Management does not respond to criticisms made in such settings, or in a public meeting of the Fifth Committee, it is not inaccurate for the Press to report on what the Staff Union or Rio Group say.

  The head of the Department of Management has previously said, in writing, that she does not have time to answer questions. And so we report what's said and ask about it, and publish belated responses on the day they are received.

  Also at Tuesday's noon briefing, after the unilateral read out above, Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: On the Capital Master Plan, I just wanted, the, the, I guess, two questions. One, the statement about the blast film at Madison Avenue was made during a High-Level Committee on Management by the Staff Union, so I just want to be, you’re saying erroneous media, media council [inaudible]. Has the Staff Union been informed, that’s what they say…?

Spokesperson: I don’t know whether the Staff Union was informed, but I do know that they have the films on the windows…

Inner City Press: Okay. What about in the, in the, what they call the luggage building, the building on the corner of 42nd and 2nd?

Spokesperson: I haven’t asked, but as they mentioned, all the buildings were inspected by DSS [Department of Safety and Security].

Inner City Press: Right, but the Staff Union says there was a safety plan, but that the blast film wasn’t put on. I am just saying there’s a dispute between the Union…

Spokesperson: I haven’t, but the Capital Master Plan, they know what they have done, right?

   We'll see. Watch this site.

* * *

At UN, Food Workers Abruptly Told of Layoffs, Swine Flu and Drugs Gag Order

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, May 4 -- With the diplomacy for which the United Nations is known, its food service workers in New York were abruptly told Monday that layoffs begin on August 2. The UN headquarters is scheduled to be emptied and repaired, by a contractor Skanska being sued for asbestos, and its cafeteria is to be cut in two, consolidated with the more upscale Delegates' Dining Room.

  One worker, staring at the day's offerings of chicken legs and corn, complained to Inner City Press that while "Obama is trying to save jobs, Ban Ki-moon is eliminating them."

   The notice was by the UN's contractor Aramark. Its cleaning contractor has not given similar notices, as there will still be a need to clear the UN's so-called swing spaces on Madison Avenue and 47th Street and Second Avenue and 42nd and 46th Streets.

   As Inner City Press has reported, the move is called into question by the Department of Safety and Security's failure to produce risk assessments for the swing space locations. Capital Master Plan chief Michael Adlerstein is now said to be blaming the head of the UN's New York security for not preparing the plans.

UN's Ban and Adlerstein, with Skanska, layoff notices not shown

 Adlerstein will hold a meeting with staff on May 7, but the contractors being unceremoniously told of lay-offs are not expected to be invited.

Footnotes: The UN's pandemic expert David Navarro, in an uncharacteristically testy press conference on Monday, refused to state whether any UN staff have tested positive to swine or H1N1 flu. Inner City Press asked him to comment on irregularities in "pharmaceutical controls," including with regard to Tamiflu as well as Daizepam, in the UN Medical Service, but he declined.

  The stated purpose of his briefing was so Ban Ki-moon won't be answered flu-related questions at his May 5 press conference. But now that seemed inevitable.

  The role of the pork industry in the UN World Health Organization's decision to change the name of Swine Flu is not yet fully known. Apparently poultry groups didn't have as much clout, as it is still called Bird Flu. On a recent WHO press conference call, Inner City Press repeatedly pushed 0-1 to get in line to ask a question, but wasn't called on. Next time, then. Watch this site.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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