Union Holds a Protest, but Layoffs Take Effect

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The union representing nearly 700 public school employees who had been threatened with layoffs held a last-minute lunchtime rally Friday on the steps of City Hall, calling the layoffs a political vendetta and threatening possible legal action.

But for all of the chanting and sign waving by District Council 37, the layoffs went through as planned. At the end of the day, Sungmi Kang, 47, a school aide at Stuyvesant High School, was out of work, along with 671 other school aides, parent coordinators, community associates, and other school support staff. They are the city's lowest paid employees and the latest victims of budget cuts.

Dressed all in black in a show of mourning for his jobless members, Santos Crespo, the president of Local 372, said the city's Department of Education had essentially sacrificed low-paid employees' jobs as payback for a grudge it bears District Council 37. City officials have said that they were left with no choice but to order layoffs after Lillian Roberts, the union's executive director, rejected their proposal last summer to plug budget holes with more than $200 million from a multi-union health fund. They estimate that the layoffs will save the city over $30 million.

"From the beginning, this was politics," Mr. Crespo said. "Mayor Bloomberg wanted us to utilize a fund that helps stabilize our welfare. ... And they are still harping on that issue. It's done; it's finished; the issue now is how are these low-paid members at the end of the day going to make the rent next month?"

For Ms. Kang, it is not a question of making rent, but her 11-year-old son's school tuition is now in jeopardy. He attends a religious school in Bayside, Queens, which costs $500 a month. As a school aide at Stuyvesant High School, where she translates English materials into Korean for the school's many immigrant families, she was able to make those payments.

Mr. Crespo said the union was considering legal action against the city because the layoffs disproportionately affected schools that serve large numbers of poor or struggling students.

The number of school workers who will be laid off has decreased in recent days, partly through attrition, but also because the city's Education Department has placed some of those who would have been laid off in jobs at other schools. A total of 672 school support workers will lose their jobs. Of those, 639 are District Council 37 members.

This is not the first time Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has laid off school aides. In the winter of 2009, the city cut 503 of these positions.

"If it takes a village to raise a child, then these people are certainly part of that village," said Michael Mendel, the secretary of the United Federation of Teachers, the teachers' union. "And no one is going to convince me that they couldn't find the money for this."

4:54 p.m. | Updated
In a letter to one school employee who received a pink slip but was removed from the layoff list, Lawrence Becker, the chief executive officer of human resources for the city Education Department, warned of a second round of layoffs for school support staff. The full text of that letter is below: