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PEP Dec 2009
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Public Employee Press

LAYOFFS: The human toll
City fires 530 School Aides

Union lawsuit froze layoffs for four weeks


Less than two weekS after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg narrowly won re-election, his Dept. of Education gave layoff notices to 530 School Aides. Friday, Nov. 13, was their last day of work on behalf of the city’s 1.1 million schoolchildren.

“Hundreds of dedicated public employees, who are among the lowest-paid in the city’s school system, have lost their jobs in the midst of the worst economy we’ve seen in decades,” said DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts of the mayor’s mass layoffs. “And thousands of children in the city’s poorest communities have lost the support staff they desperately need.”

Among the hardest hit was East Harlem’s District 4, where 22 percent of the Aides — 27 workers — were laid off. District 6 in Washington Heights, another poor community, lost 47 of its 263 School Aides.

In contrast, Districts 1, 2, and 3 in Manhattan lost only 1 percent of their Aides, while District 15 in Park Slope lost only 6 percent.

“Our union is outraged that these longtime, permanent workers who have played such a critical role in the education of our children have now lost their jobs,” said Veronica Montgomery-Costa, the president of Dept. of Education Employees Local 372 and of District Council 37. “These layoffs will have a devastating impact on the entire school system.”

Legal action wins four weeks’ pay

DC 37 and Local 372 waged an intense legal battle to prevent the cuts and managed to keep the members on the payroll for four extra weeks after DOE’s target date of Oct. 16.

The union’s legal team, led by General Counsel Mary O’Connell and attorneys Meaghean Murphy, Steve Sykes and Aaron Amaral, won a temporary restraining order Oct. 15 in New York State Supreme Court, holding off the mass firing of the Local 372 members.

After an Oct. 26 hearing on the union’s request for a permanent injunction against the layoffs, Judge Edmead ruled that the union had established a likelihood of success in its lawsuit; however, at the DOE’s request, the court directed the union to post a bond of $780,000 to cover the city’s potential loss as the court case continued. The union declined to post the bond.

“We felt that posting the bond would be like asking the members to pay out of their own money to keep their jobs,” said Local 372 President Montgomery-Costa. “This was an attempt to make the members and the union look like the villains.”

The fight continues

The union lawyers are scheduled to appear in court in January for a preliminary hearing on the case against the layoffs.

“We will continue to vigorously pursue the pending lawsuit to reinstate these School Aides and challenge the city’s attempt to chip away at the fairness and equity in our education and civil service systems,” said Roberts. The layoffs were first scheduled for summer, but an agreement on health-care savings between the city and the Municipal Labor Committee included a 90-day postponement.

Local 372 fought to protect the jobs by lobbying to restore funding and launched a radio ad campaign against the layoffs in September. The 530 firings represented a substantial reduction from the more than 2,000 that had been projected earlier this year.

Have YOU been laid off? At Oct. 9 and 10 DOE information sessions and in later interviews, the Public Employee Press spoke with Local 372 members who were being laid off about the impact the firings would have on their lives and their schools. Their stories appear on pages 5–7 and 10 of this issue. Articles about laid-off DC 37 members at the Administration for Children’s Services are on pages 8-9.

Other laid-off members of DC 37 are encouraged to call PEP at 212-815-1520 or e-mail PEPeditor@dc37.net to discuss the toll of the layoffs on them, their families and the agencies where they worked.

“I’m needed at that school. I don’t understand this at all.”
— Joe-Ann Brown, Local 372

To the members of Local 372, whose motto is “Our job is kids,” the tragedy of layoffs extends beyond the personal economic pain to deep concern for the city’s schoolchildren.

“I’m needed at that school,” says Joe-Ann Brown, showing how passionately she feels about her job as one of five School Aides at the Science Skills Center High School in downtown Brooklyn, where she has worked since January 2007.

Like most of her colleagues, who are School Aides and SAPIS counselors at the Brooklyn high school, the Local 372 member is disappointed and hurt that the DOE has decided that her services are no longer needed.

“I know how to deal with those kids,” says Brown, who has a daughter of her own. Before moving to the high school, she worked for eight years at P.S. 56 in Brooklyn.

Always active in her community, Brown was also president and treasurer of the PTA at her daughter’s school, where she volunteered to supervise the students in the schoolyard and help with filing.

When she saw there was an opening at the high school, she jumped at the opportunity. “I wanted to work with high school students and try something different,” she said.

Like other members of her local, Brown is shocked that the Dept. of Education would lay off School Aides just two months into the new school year.

“We know this job, and the need is there. I don’t understand this at all,” she said.

— A.A.





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