British Columbia

Prince George homeless men paid below minimum wage to work at dinosaur exhibit

Twenty eight homeless Prince George men are waiting to be paid their below minimum-wage salary for working last weekend at the Discover the Dinosaurs exhibit.

Discover the Dinosaurs contractor claims men were volunteers - not employees

Prince George homeless men were recruited to staff an exhibit at the CN Centre last weekend. They have yet to be paid. From left to right is Brian Horth, Quint Parker, Grant Groeneveld, Graham Best, Dakota Fairchild and Norman Coles. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

A U.S. company that used homeless men to staff its for-profit Discover the Dinosaurs exhibit in Prince George says it did not intend to pay the workers below minimum wage. 

Twenty eight men were recruited at two homeless shelters to work at the dinosaur show at Prince George's CN Centre Nov. 7 and 8. The men were promised to be paid $50 per day. That's substantially less than the $84 per day earned when working a regular eight-hour shift at the minimum wage of $10.45 per hour.

As well, the men say they have not been paid despite assurances they would receive cash at the end of the exhibit work.

"I worked two days — Saturday and Sunday — and was never paid," said Graham Best, a resident of the Ketso Yoh homeless shelter.

The company behind Discover the Dinosaurs contracted an American not-for-profit to find staff for last weekends event. 28 homeless men were recruited and promised $50/day, less than minimum wage. (Tyler Neilsen)

"We manned rides, I helped do tear down. I worked a 12-hour day for $50 and we tore everything down," he said.

Dakota Fairchild worked three days at Discover the Dinosaurs and was expecting to collect his $150 cash on Monday.

"Then they changed their story quite a bit and said Tuesday, then Wednesday, then Thursday," said Fairchild. "A lot of us are frustrated."

Company blames hiring agency

Blue Star Productions, a Minnesota based company behind Discover the Dinosaurs, blames Helping Hand Resource Center, the agency it contracted to hire workers in Prince George. Helping Hand is a not-for-profit agency based in Peoria, Illinois.

In a statement sent to CBC, Blue Star Productions said it had ended its relationship with Helping Hand.

"The contracted hourly rate between BSP and Helping Hand Resource Center was well in excess of the prevailing minimum wages," the statement reads. "BSP assumed and expected the temporary employees would be paid competitive rates meeting or exceeding any legal wage requirements." 

Contacted in Peoria, Ron Valle of Helping Hand claimed there had been a misunderstanding. He said his organization didn't hire workers, rather they organize volunteers. 

"That stipend ($50) is explained to them that it's for their travelling expense and for their food for the time of day they're volunteering," said Valle. "We made it perfectly clear that we were looking for volunteers, not employees or temp staff."

Workers were volunteers, contractor says

Valle says Blue Star paid Helping Hand a rate of $14.50 USD an hour for each worker, and that the profit goes directly to funding social programs provided by Helping Hand. He claims the workers haven't been paid yet because it takes his organization seven to ten days to do all the paper work and issue cheques.

Discover the Dinosaurs is at the PNE forum in Vancouver this weekend. (DiscoverTheDinosaurs.com)

When asked why Helping Hand was using homeless volunteers in Canada to raise money for U.S. programs, Valle stated, "It's the same incentive we use when people volunteer to go across the seas in disaster situations... Rest assured it's not a gains incentive for individuals. I'm pretty sure that most people who volunteer are willing to volunteer because they see the good in what people do." 

But that's not the way the Prince George men see it.

Brian Horth, also a Ketso Yoh resident, says Helping Hand continues to give them the run around. He's worries it's not the first time homeless have been taken advantage of in this way.

"I think they've been doing this to other homeless shelters," said Horth. "We've been trying to get in touch with them on the phone but they've had their phone numbers changed and cancelled."

Discover the Dinosaurs is at the PNE Forum in Vancouver this weekend. Tickets range in price from $17 to $25.

With files from Andrew Kurjata and Kiran Dhillon

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