Uncategorized | 1:00 pm | April 7, 2011 | By Alon Harish

Aldermen debate custodian layoffs

Sandy Bohannon, wife of a new haven custodian, implored finance committee members to avoid privatizing custodial services.
Sandy Bohannon, wife of a new haven custodian, implored finance committee members to avoid privatizing custodial services. Photo by Alon Harish.

Just one night after the Finance Committee heard school nurses’ decry recent layoffs, it was New Haven school custodians’ turn Wednesday night.

Amid a protracted battle with Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s administration over their contract, the custodial workers’ union implored Finance Committee members at the Board of Aldermen to prevent the privatizing of school custodial services. Privatization, which DeStefano predicts would save the city up to $8 million, would deprive the city’s schoolchildren of their trusted custodians and put working families in poverty, union officials said Wednesday night.

Sal Luciano, executive director of Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), said by contracting custodial services to GCA Services, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based company, the city would be losing many dedicated workers.

Under the current proposed contract with GCA Services, many of the city’s 186 full-time school custodians would become part-time, and all would see reduced benefits and a significant pay cut.

Council 4 asked Jeannette Wicks-Lim, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to testify about how privatization would impact the city’s custodial workers. Wicks-Lim concluded that the GCA contract would unfairly seek to extract the equivalent of 19 percent of the city’s $42 million budget shortfall from just 186 workers.

Over 90 percent of the $8.1 million savings from privatization come from cuts in pay and benefits, Wicks-Lim said. By Wicks-Lim’s calculations, those cuts will put the average school custodian in poverty.

A small increase in taxes, Wicks-Lim said, would raise an equal amount of money but distribute the financial burden more evenly across the city.

But how many school custodians actually live in New Haven? That was the question asked by aldermen Darnell Goldson of Ward 30 and Migdalia Castro of Ward 16. Figures provided by the city indicate that 54 percent of school custodians live outside the city.

That figure matters, Goldson said, because the job of aldermen is to protect taxpayers, not people who live outside New Haven. Goldson is the leading proponent of an effort to pressure the state legislature in Hartford to allow cities to bargain with their employees about where they live.

Sandy Bohannon, wife of a New Haven school custodian, said the custodial workers union has been willing to make significant concessions to the city, but has not found a cooperative partner in the mayor.

Contract negotiations between the custodians and the city will be settled by a state-appointed arbitrator. The state arbitration process is expected to be used in several more of the city’s 11 union contracts.

Finance Committee chair Alderman Yusuf Shah of Ward 23 said the committee will continue hearing testimony on the custodians’ contract along with other budget issues in public hearings over the next few weeks.

The committee will hold a public hearing on the budget next Tuesday at Fair Haven Middle School on Grand Avenue.

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