It was lunchtime, and temperatures outside were freezing. But turkey sandwiches and warm chicken noodle soup weren't on the minds of the 70 or so men and women gathered yesterday at City Hall Park. They had one thing in mind only, and that was getting through to the mayor: No layoffs! No layoffs!
They were members and leaders of DC-37 AFSCME and its local chapters; they were the school aids, clerks, hospital workers and civil servants who represent the largest public employee union in New York City.
And they were gathered to protest Mayor Bloomberg's announcement of $1.3 billion in cuts to vital city services which will result in the layoff of 6,000 more workers.
Bloomberg maintains the cuts were invitable and just a small part of his attempt to close a $2.4 billion budget shortfall.
But the protesters blame job losses on corporate waste and gross mismanagement of funds under Bloomberg's watch -- more specifically, the $80 million fraud scheme involving CityTime, the city's payroll timekeeping program.
"I wanted to participate in the rally to pledge my support for its message – that these layoffs are unjustified, cruel, and irresponsible," said Michael McCasland, 28, a forensic scientist from Bedford-Stuyvesant and president-elect of chapter 39 within Local 375. "The CityTime project was supposed to cost about $80 million, but to date has cost $800 million! How can a mayor propose over 6,000 layoffs, given his own waste?"
CityTime was created to streamline the city's payroll system and also reduce waste. The project was supposed to cost $80 million when it was created but, to date, has gone unchecked with its own spending, exceeding $600 million – nearly eight times its own budget. Additionally, it was discovered that consultants hired to oversee the project for a budgeted $4 million were instead paid close to $50 million.
Even Bloomberg acknowledges that the project was a "disaster." And last Wednesday, federal prosecutors charged consultants of CityTime with fraud.
The news of the massive fraud came as one more slap in the face to civil servant workers already suffering massive job losses.
"I am laid off! I have a family just as everybody else. I have a son who is starting college just now," said Hyacinth Cooper, a speaker who, until recently, worked in the Department of Finance. "Mayor Bloomberg how am I going to pay my son's school fee when you take my job away from me?"
"He is putting in people with 6-figure salaries. This is not right. You need to find another way to fix the city. Find another way!"
Bloomberg defended the plan, saying it reflects an expected $1 billion increase in pension expenses and an additional $180 million increase in the cost of the city's Medicaid obligations.
But speakers at the rally, 20 total, called the plan hypocritical and a reflection of Wall Street's waste. They said the new financial plan would disproportionately affect city agency workers, the working-class and the most vulnerable New Yorkers.
"This union has put out about five, six white papers talking about waste, and nobody paid any attention to us," said Lillian Roberts, executive director of DC 37. "The loss of these dollars has an impact on everything in this city, the homeless, the public services for our seniors, our daycares. Now, the layoffs and the misery... Understand what is happening, talk to your neighbors about what is happening."
"We shouldn't be afraid of the word 'class,'" said Joshua Barnett of Local 375. "[Bloomberg] represents a class; a class of people making six, seven, eight figures a year. That's none of us! Our class of people struggle to keep this city running, struggle to feed our families, give our kids a decent education day in and day out. We're the ones who keep this city running. When we're cut, everybody bleeds."
Other speakers at the rally included Behrouz Fathi, (President Local 375 Civil Service Technical Guild); Juan Fernandez, (President Local 154); Jackie Roe Adams, (President, Local 299); Sirra Crippen, (President Local 1507); Sonia Ivany, (NYC Labor Council for Latin American Advancement); Ydanis Rodriguez, (City Councilmember 10th District); Brad Landers, (City Councilmember 39th District); Letitia James, (City Councilmember, 35th District) and several others.
"People think city workers are lazy and that we milk the clock," said McCasland. "But this is far from the truth. We work long hours, perform challenging tasks, and are educated.
"Also, we receive a moderate salary at best. Our benefits are not spectacular, and our pensions on average are $22,000 a year once we retire. Civil servants are not at fault for the recession. Laying us off will not significantly reduce the city's debt."