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.
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.
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.