Public Layoffs Take Hidden Toll on Black Women

Thursday, December 15, 2011

New York City layoffs in October knocked out jobs for 642 support-staff workers, mostly women of color. Their union is suing the city for outsourcing to private contractors, a national trend tied to black women's jobless rates.

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--As the attendance administrator at a tough downtown Manhattan high school, Cliftonia Johnson was never one to mince words.

Now she's got plenty to say about New York City's decision to lay off 642 support-staff workers, predominately women of color, including herself, in early October 2011.

"When you remove support staff, especially good support staff from a school, you are asking for trouble," Johnson, 48, said in a recent interview in a downtown Manhattan diner. "The kids are left with nothing. Teachers are not going to come out of their classroom to break up fights . . . Those calls I made to parents aren't getting made."

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Johnson, employed by the New York City Department of Education for 13 years, is still looking for a job. She says unemployment checks aren't enough to support her and her grown son, who has special needs and lives at home with her and her younger son.

Budget deficits are causing layoffs of public workers across the country.

But Johnson's dismissal from Marta Valle High School was of a particular variety: that of the public worker who loses her job to a privatization push by cities and states turning to contractors to provide the same services. Wages, benefits and conditions such as paid sick leave can be eliminated for these workers as private contractors are not held to the same employment standards as the government.

Shortly after Johnson left her job, she says she saw her position posted on New York City's Department of Education website as a contract position for a private company to fill.

The listing wasn't coincidental, according to Johnson's union, District Council 37 (DC 37), which in mid-November announced plans to sue New York for layoffs made in "bad faith." Workers, the union has charged, lost their jobs "under the guise of economic necessity" only to be replaced by contract workers.

New York City's Department of Education couldn't be reached for comment

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