Richmond News

Former WestJet employee closer to class action suit against airline

BY ALYSE KOTYK| Feb. 22, 2019


A former flight attendant is getting ready to take the next steps in a class-action lawsuit against WestJet after the airline lost its appeal asking for the case to be thrown out.

The suit alleges the airline had a work culture that tolerated harassment of female employees.

Mandalena Lewis, who used to work out of Vancouver International Airport, is pursuing the class action because she says she was sexually assaulted by a pilot in 2010. She told the company about it, she said, but alleges they failed to protect her and other female flight attendants.

On Thursday, a British Columbia Supreme Court judge dismissed WestJet’s application to strike the legal action, rejecting the company’s claims that the dispute belongs before a human rights tribunal and workers’ compensation board.

“Winning this appeal was a really big deal, and it’s not just a big deal for women within WestJet but across the work field in Canada,” Lewis said, adding she values the support she’s received from current and former airline employees while pursuing this class action.

“This was a big deal and this was a big decision … I’m grateful. This means we’ve got even stronger teeth now.”

WestJet spokesperson Morgan Bell said in an emailed statement that the company “respects the decision of the court and are in the process of reviewing the decision with our counsel to determine next steps.”

None of the allegations contained in the lawsuit have been proven in court.

Lewis said the lawsuit intends to represent all of WestJet’s past and current female flight attendants whose employment contract included an anti-harassment promise. The case has yet to be approved by the court as a class action proceeding and Lewis said she hopes to have the class action certified in the next year.

“Now that we have this momentum I want to take advantage of it and really make sure that we’re continuing on and pushing on towards certification,” she said.

In the meantime, Lewis said she hopes she will gather more “in-person” support, reflecting back on when she led a campaign at YVR last summer aiming to shed light on sexual harassment in the airline industry.

“I took a really bold step in doing that last summer. It was really important and pivotal and symbolic and it really made an impact,” she said. “Being there in person really makes all the difference. This #MeToo movement really has to come off the screen.”

With files from Canadian Press

Richmond community group shares excess food with those in need

BY ALYSE KOTYK| Feb. 26, 2019

With acts as simple as sharing extra bananas, splitting a Costco-sized portion of groceries or collecting unused canned goods, one Richmond group is aiming to combat hunger in the community.

Richmond Food Helps, a closed Facebook group, has a simple mantra: “times are tough for everybody…be kind and generous to your neighbour.” Launched last fall, the group now has more than 150 members who simply post when they have excess food to offer, and others comment on where and when they could pick up the item.

“Everybody’s struggling in their own way,” La Toya Barrington, Richmond resident and owner of Go2Girl who started the Facebook group, told the Richmond News.

“I’ve been there…so it’s just a way to try and help and give back to the community and allow others to give back to the community in their own way.”

For Barrington, Richmond’s food services are not always accessible to those in need.

“The hours available offered to access these food services don’t really work for a lot of people,” she said, citing narrow opening times, midday business hours or out-of-the-way locations as being especially problematic.

“When I was accessing (food services), a lot of the stuff was expired, which makes things difficult,” she added.

In the Facebook group right now, Barrington said she sees a lot of canned goods being given away.

“I try to give away a lot of pasta or things that are more filling,” she said, adding that food banks are in need of filling foods and fresh produce.

The Facebook group stipulates that all members take and consume food at their own risk. Members who may not feel comfortable posting their need are encouraged to send a private message.

“The (people) that private message me are very grateful,” Barrington said. “A lot of them I know personally so I know they’re struggling and it’s just a good feeling to be able to help.”

Barrington said some restaurants have even partnered with her to reduce their food waste, but have chosen to remain anonymous.

“A lot of restaurants have so much food waste and it kills me that a lot of stuff that can be given just gets thrown out for liability reasons,” she said. “Instead of throwing out food, I thought that it would be better for more people just to post it on (the Facebook group) to give it away to other people.”

Looking ahead, Barrington said she hopes more people get involved in the Facebook group.

“It takes a village,” she said. “Even the tiniest bit helps.”

Entrepreneur gives second life to chopsticks used in Richmond restaurants

BY ALYSE KOTYK| Nov. 14, 2018


Janitorial staff at Aberdeen Centre help sort chopsticks from food court trays. Photo: Alyse Kotyk

It’s no secret that Richmond is renowned for its diverse Asian cuisine, and one entrepreneur has tapped into an underutilized, but abundant, resource that’s resulted from this array of delicacies – disposable bamboo chopsticks.

In 2016, Felix Böck, a UBC graduate, launched his start up, ChopValue, in an attempt to bring awareness to the amount of wood waste in Metro Vancouver.

“One day (Böck) was having sushi with his girlfriend and they realized that bamboo chopsticks were the best way to make people aware of the wood waste issue because it’s something tangible they can relate to,” said Luz Alvarado, digital marketer and community builder with ChopValue.

From there, Böck began collecting chopsticks and created a prototype tile of chopsticks broken down into a fibre. However, it wasn’t quite right.

“He kind of destroyed the chopsticks…he showed the prototype to his girlfriend and she was like, ‘no, I don’t think this is (made of) chopsticks,’” Alvarado said.

“His second prototype he decided to press the chopsticks as they are and he got this tile that, when you grab it from one side, you can actually see (the chopsticks).”

Now, Böck’s company collects chopsticks across Metro Vancouver, including from 15 Richmond locations such as Vancouver International Airport, Aberdeen Centre, Richmond Centre, Lansdowne Centre, Richmond Public Market, River Rock Casino and several local restaurants.

Alvarado estimates more than 5,000 kilograms of chopsticks have been collected from the Richmond area since 2016, and with these, ChopValue creates tiles which are used to make furniture pieces ranging from small shelves to large tables. The company even helped with a renovation at the River Rock Casino and installed several tables made with their tiles.

Vancouver International Airport was the first Richmond-based business to partner with ChopValue in 2016 and says they’ve seen more than 520,000 chopsticks recycled.

“We are focused in going above and beyond with the types of materials that are diverted from landfill,” Shaye Folk-Blagbrough, senior environmental specialist, Vancouver Airport Authority told the Richmond News.

Visitors eating at YVR’s food court have the option to leave their tray on a counter for staff to sort the waste on it. With this system, all chopsticks on the tray are simply put in a designated bin for ChopValue to collect, which the company does at least once per week.

Aberdeen Centre partnered with ChopValue in June, 2018 and says they’ve sent over 1,000 kilograms of chopsticks to the company.

“This is something that we should be doing…it’s just like our home,” said Joey Kwan, director of promotion and public relations at Aberdeen Centre. “Who doesn’t want to give a little effort to save the earth?”

Aberdeen Centre’s waste disposal works similarly to the airport’s, with janitorial staff sorting waste from trays left at designated counters in the food court.

“Although it’s just a small thing, a great idea always starts with the little things,” Kwan said.

While there are no individual pick-up options for those finding themselves with an abundance of chopsticks in their home, ChopValue’s Alvarado explained that anyone can drop their chopsticks off at one of the participating businesses in Richmond.

Participating businesses include:

  • Aberdeen Centre
  • Lansdowne Centre
  • Richmond Centre
  • Richmond Public Market
  • River Rock Casino
  • Yahoan Centre
  • YVR airport
  • Banzai Sushi House
  • Ebisu Richmond
  • Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ
  • Liuyishou HotPot
  • Matsuyama
  • Pho Hoa Richmond
  • Kyabia Japanese
  • Yuu Japanese Tapas