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Union protest of budget cuts, layoffs

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This afternoon a union representing blue-collar workers in the School District of Philadelphia held a rally and march to District headquarters. SEIU 32BJ organized the event to protest budget cuts and layoff notices that were sent to 2,700 union members.

According to Kristen Graham of the Inquirer, thousands of people have gathered downtown for the rally. A police report puts the number of people gathered at 1,500, according to Daniel Symonds.

Below is a summary of tweets from the event in the form of a slideshow. It will be updated as the event continues.

The protest in Philadelphia is part of a statewide series of actions organized by SEIU. Several other unions are also represented at the rally in Philadelphia.

Rally attender and 32BJ member Ernie Bennett, 55, said he has worked for the School District for 26 years, starting out as a cleaning supervisor. Now he is a building engineer at Tanner Duckrey Elementary, 15th and Diamond Streets, and a union rep.

"I never thought I would see anything like this," said Bennett, whose base salary is $46,000.

If the blue-collar jobs are outsourced to private companies, even if these companies hire some of the same workers, he said, "they won't pay the same...I'll be working for $20,000 less and not making the benefits I'm making now."

Bennett, a homeowner in Tioga, said he graduated from Ben Franklin High. His five adult children, and now two grandchildren, went to city public schools.

"I was hoping to retire and go into working with kids, which is my passion," Bennett said.

Andrea Lawrence, 46, said the five members of her household in Germantown, including two adult children and two nieces, are all members of 32BJ. She is a custodial assistant with 17 years of experience making $32,000 a year.

"If I get laid off, it will affect me emotionally and financially," she said.

"I have young adults who will have to start over. I'll have to find them jobs so they don't turn to the streets. Young folks sometimes go astray, and I'll have to keep them on point."

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan spoke at the rally, telling the crowd "we will fight for what's right." Jordan appeared on Radio Times on WHYY-FM earlier in the day as part of a segment on the District's transformation plan.

Also today, the Education Voters of Pennsylvania are holding a statewide call to action.

Check the #phillyeducation hashtag for tweets and photos from the rally.

Contributing editor Dale Mezzacappa contributed reporting to this piece.

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