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Workers will fight for laid-off DOE employees

CRAIG D. FRAZIER Special to the AmNews | 10/13/2011, 2:26 p.m.

"Why should I have to go on welfare when I could have a job? I have dedicated 12 years of my life to the children, the parents, the Department of Education [DOE]. For them to give me a letter saying they don't need me any more is just mind-boggling," laid-off DOE worker Regina Dudley told reporters as she tried to hold back tears.

Last week, at a press conference held by DC 37 at City Hall, Dudley became the face of the over 700 DC 37 workers who had received pink slips from the city. Union officials, workers and elected officials joined to support these casualties of the city's budget cuts.

Dudley, a single parent, said the school system helped raise her children. Now she feels like they have kicked her to the curb. "I think it's unfair for someone who doesn't know my struggle or my life to make a decision that impacts me in this way," she said.

"I have two children. The oldest graduated high school at the top of his class. I have a 10-year-old who has Asperger's syndrome-I have to explain to him that he is not going to be able to see his social worker anymore. He is not going to get to see his psychiatrist that he needs to see on a regular basis. I'm not going to have health insurance."

Unlike in last year's budget crisis, federal aid could not save these jobs. The DOE's rationale was that losing school aides, whose responsibilities include being a liaison between schools and families, would be less painful than losing teachers or after-school programs. The layoffs primarily affect schools that serve low-income areas.

"This all lands on the shoulders of Mayor [Michael]Bloomberg, Speaker Christine Quinn and the City Council members-they supported the bill that ensured that these people were going to be laid off now," said Councilman Charles Barron, the only City Council member who voted against the proposal.

"It is hypocritical for the council members and [Schools Chancellor Dennis] Walcott to be going back and forth now in the public eye, when people have already been fired-they are acting like it was something that couldn't be averted."

"Schools had to absorb a budget cut. Our principals made the best staffing decisions they could for the students," Walcott said in a statement. "I'm going to adhere to those decisions."

DC 37 Local 372 President Santos Crespo Jr., who represents the DOE employees, told reporters there was no reason why the layoffs had to happen. The union had submitted a proposal that would have generated enough money to save the jobs, he said, but the proposal was rejected. Santos had this message for the DOE:

"We will not go silently into the night. Even though these members won't have jobs, this struggle will continue," he declared. "We are going to continue this fight until they are brought back."

Eighteen members of the New York City Council are expressing their deep concern about the DOE layoffs. They oppose the action, which took place without input from the council.

"The money is there. The same day people were laid off, a significant number of people were hired," Council Member Letitia James stated.

"These are the most vulnerable people. Most of them are women-women of color, women with children and women who were on public assistance. We can ill afford to lay them off and exacerbate poverty in New York City."

"So the complaint from the City Council members is that they weren't told who was going to be laid off, not that the layoffs occurred in the first place?" asked Barron.

The union will meet with city officials this week to see what steps can be taken, if any, to get the workers' jobs back.