November 18, 2011
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
More than a month after 672 Local 372 school aides and parent coordinators were laid off from the Department of Education (DOE), Local 372 and DC 37’s leadership held a press conference on November 16 at DC 37’s offices to announce a lawsuit against DOE with the NY State Supreme Court in NY County. Meaghean Murphy, Assistant General Counsel for DC 37, said the lawsuit charges DOE’s decision to lay off the union members was “arbitrary and capricious”(which can be litigated via Article 78 of the NY Civil Practice Law and Rules), violated the State’s Education Law because it did not reduce the workforce equitably and was enacted in bad faith.
During the press conference, Local 372’s President, Santos Crespo, DC 37’s Associate Director, Henry Garrido and Council Member and Chair of the Education Committee, Robert Jackson, expressed their exasperation that out of a DOE budget of $24 billion and a City budget of $66 billion, the DOE was not willing to allocate the $35 million to keep the workers on the job.
In addition, Crespo said the DOE wouldn’t even consider using the $2 billion the city contributed to the city’s public schools back in the spring when teacher layoffs seemed imminent or a percentage of the $700 million the state won in federal Race to the Top funds.
As previously reported in LaborPress, the union claims the DOE wasn’t interested in negotiating with Local 372 because the city was angry at DC 37’s decision not to tap the multi-union controlled Health Stabilization Fund in order to pay Local 372 members’ salaries, when in fact the majority of unions opposed the idea.
According to a report based on a City Council hearing on the 2012 executive budget, Medicaid revenue is expected to increase by $100 million to $117 million. The report states, “The Human Resources Administration has been working with DOE to claim this revenue.” Garrido mentioned the lawsuit cites that the DOE is using the money to “fund charter schools and supplies and materials” rather than for speech, occupational and physical therapy services for special-needs children.
Local 372 school support staffs are some of the lowest paid in the city’s school system, but the union submitted “painful proposals,” including reduced hours and increased furloughs, that would have at least prevented the layoffs. But, Garrido noted, “DOE said the proposals are too little, too late.”
Crespo added, “The lawsuit is seeking to set the record straight, and to show that the laid-off workers were political pawns.”
Council Member Robert Jackson said the union has an obligation to pursue legal action “as it has already fought legislatively and in the streets.” He mentioned that in 1993 he, along with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, filed a lawsuit against the State of New York because “its method of allocating funds for public education did not provide adequately for children in the City.” It took 11 years before victory, but “we won billions that afforded the City’s children an opportunity for a public education.”
Elizabeth Thomas, spokeswoman for the DOE’s Law Department, said neither she nor the department could comment at this time on the lawsuit because it has yet to be served the documents.