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Layoff notices hit 848 blue-collar workers

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For a second time this month, the School District has responded to a union's rejection of a giveback proposal by announcing a mass layoff: 848 members of District 1201 of SEIU Local 32BJ, which represents transportation, maintenance, and custodial workers, are receiving notices that they will be laid off in 12 months.

Last week the District responded to a vote of the union that represents administrators, who rejected a concessions package, by promptly laying off 27 assistant principals. The layoff announcement appears to have persuaded administrators to reverse course and accept a similar package of concessions to the one they rejected.

This time, the layoffs are on a much larger scale.

The membership of District 1201 voted by a wide margin last week to reject contract concessions that would have allowed the District to achieve substantial savings in this year's budget. The School District is seeking concessions totaling $75 million from its unions.

The 12 months of notice given to District 1201 members reflect a no-layoffs clause in the union's contract. Because of that clause, they are the only School District union to have so far escaped layoffs stemming from the District's massive budget gap, District sources say.

According to District 1201 President George Ricchezza, it was the layoff issue that triggered his membership's rejection of a proposed agreement on union concessions. Members wanted the 12-month no-layoff clause honored, while the District wanted 575 layoffs, he said. He said the agreement rejected by the members also would have given back this year's 3 percent wage increase and $1 million in payments to the union's health and welfare fund.

"There's no doubt in my mind it's retaliation," Ricchezza said of the layoff announcement.

"They don’t believe the School District is being forthright with them when they can afford a $1 million buyout for Dr. Ackerman and they’re saying they're broke." He added, "My membership doesn’t feel they’re being totally honest with us."

The School District provided the following statement:

“As the School District of Philadelphia stated last spring, due to a reduction in state and federal funding, we would be forced to make some difficult decisions, including seeking needed concessions from our bargaining units. Unfortunately, members of the bargaining unit Local 32BJ District 1201, which includes transportation employees, building engineers, cleaning and maintenance personnel, recently rejected a tentative agreement we had reached with its leadership. As a result, the District is now forced to take other steps to achieve these needed savings, including sending notice to 848 facilities and transportation employees that they will be laid off effective 12 months from now in September 2012 in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement.

"We continue to be in contact with 32BJ’s leadership and its members to discuss ways to meet our goal of savings and find alternatives that may reduce the need for this action.”

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Paul Socolar

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Paul is the Notebook's former editor and publisher and also one of its founders in 1994.