Nov 24, 2008

Fenty = Catastrophe, Intimidation, Terror !

On last Thursday evening , DC Jobs with Justice hosted a Workers' Rights Board hearing at the DC City Council. I was happy to be an invited guest to speak at this event. The purpose of this event was to allow city workers to discuss their concerns about what is happening across the board to city government workers and public services under the Fenty administration. Panelists of city workers testified before the Workers' Rights Board. This board plans to develop an action plan to address concerns from city workers in DC Public Schools, Child and Family Services Administration, and Department of Mental Health. Amongst the recommendations are upcoming meetings with the DC City Council.

"Catastrophe, intimidation, terror. These were common words used to describe DC Mayor Adrian Fenty’s two years in office by over a dozen speakers at Thursday’s Workers’ Rights Board (WRB) hearing. The hearing – which took place at the John A. Wilson Building to a standing-room only crowd of hundreds of residents, workers and activists – was held to examine Mayor Fenty’s assault on DC public sector workers and proposals to cut public services. “I see what is happening right now as a major catastrophe,” said Roger Newell, chair of DC Jobs with Justice. “We need to speak loudly and strongly that working people made this city and stuck with this city through times of crisis. Workers should be respected not attacked and politicians who attack workers should be held accountable.”

Metro Council President Jos Williams said that Mayor Fenty has created an “environment based on intimidation” of workers through the gutting of the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) , abolishment of the Labor-Management Partnership Program and the appointment of School Chancellor Michelle Rhee who “has made it her mission to make every employee at-will.” “The door was closed to labor immediately by the Mayor after taking office,” said Dwight Bowman, AFGE National Vice President for District 14. “The Mayor chose to ignore our efforts to reach out.” Bowman also compared Mayor Fenty’s refusal to address the crisis with the PERB to similar moves by the Bush Administration to destroy the federal grievance process.

Other panelists discussed Mayor Fenty’s assault on DC public sector workers in specific agencies, including the DC Public Schools, the Child and Family Services Agency and the Department of Mental Health (DMH), and its impact on education and public and mental health services. “I have never seen a climate like what is occurring now,” said Jeff Canady, a 17-year teacher in the DC Public Schools (DCPS). “Everyday I run into workers and teachers who have horror stories about intimidation on the job…It is an absolute climate of intimidation and terror that teachers are facing.” Canady argued the problem is not bad teachers but a lack of resources, supplies and support for teachers as well as Chancellor Rhee’s “complete lack of understanding about what needs to be done.”

Candi Peterson, a 16-year veteran of DCPS and active member of WTU Local 6, criticized Fenty and Rhee for the firings of hundreds of DCPS workers which, she argued, created overcrowded classrooms and forced teachers to work in areas outside their certification. “Rhee regularly blames teachers and argues that union contracts and teachers' seniority rights stand in the way of the best education for our children.” But the reality is that her “anti-union tactics support more privatization and outsourcing of public education, the creation of more unchecked charter schools, unsound educational practices, gutting hard-earned job protections and union busting”."

Maria Jones , a parent active in school issues and a 26-year resident of DC, called Rhee’s school reform plan a redistribution of wealth and “children are being exploited and denied a quality education” as a result.

Marketta McCoy – a recently fired investigator at the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) and member of AFSCME Council 20 – said workers are being scapegoated for the recent high-profile failures at the CFSA . McCoy added that the real issue is Mayor Fenty and CFSA management’s refusal to help provide workers with desperately needed resources and a reduction in caseloads. “Management should treat workers with dignity and respect,” said McCoy.

Roy Rogers – an employee of the DC DMH Community Services Agency (CSA) and 1199SEIU member – and Dr. Ray Brown – President of the DC Doctors Council/AFSCME – also discussed the Fenty Administration’s plans to privatize mental health services . “Closing DC CSA will leave the most vulnerable, victimized, voiceless, neediest and exploited citizens of the District without a safety net,” said Rogers. “Why eliminate these jobs now with the current economic crisis which is bound to cause more need for mental health services?” Brown said the privatization plan could affect 4,000 patients and put communities into crisis. “This is a catastrophe,” said Brown adding that the DC City Council must act to pass emergency legislation to stop the contracting out (click here to take action on this issue).

DC City Councilmembers Phil Mendelson and Harry Thomas Jr. briefly sat in with the Workers’ Rights Board to listen to panelists’ testimony. Councilmembers Kwame Brown and Yvette Alexander also made appearances. Mayor Fenty, Chancellor Rhee and other Councilmembers were invited to attend but did not show, says DC Jobs with Justice Organizer Ruth Castel-Branco. “The response to this event was overwhelming,” said Castel-Branco. “We received more requests for people to testify than we could fit into the short time frame we had. It shows that workers and DC residents are fed up with Mayor Fenty’s anti-worker, anti-democractic agenda.” An action plan, based on the testimony and recommendations of panelists, from Workers’ Rights Board members is expected in the coming months. Courtesy of DC Metro Labor-AFL-CIO. "(Posted by The Washington Teacher).


Anonymous said...

Good job,

You know the world is watching. I'm passing the article on to
my professors of Bowie State.

Anonymous said...

I really wanted to attend this event but was unable to. I am so glad to hear that it went well. Thanks Roger, Candi and others who testified. Hopefully there will be more events in the future.

As a DCPS social worker, I am seeing the effects of the privatization of mental health services in DC. Because I work with children who experience behavior and emotional problems, I often refer students and their families to mental health services in the community to support what I am doing in the schools. There is one agency in particular that really provides comprehensive services where the staff works closely with the schools and families. They are part of DMH. One of the social workers approached me a couple of weeks ago and told me that they will be closing their two offices by next September. I guess the new policy now is to contract out public services to private organizations and companies regardless of the effect. You cannot underestimate how important relationships are with our parents and students. Directing them to turnaround and head to the the psychiatrist or therapist down the street may seem simple but it is going to lead to a lot of people dropping out of mental health services all together. I could go on about how devastating this will be... maybe another time.

I was told by someone in Catania's office that a consultant company came up with the recommendation to close down all DMH services that can be run by private organizations and companies. What about asking the clients and workers about their recommendations?

Anonymous said...

Kudos to you, Candi, and all of the other "gatekeepers" for fighting the good fight. You (all) are appreciated!!

Anonymous said...

Keep your eye on the fair balance viewing educational tax credits driven toward Charter as well as the philanthropy tax credits. How fair and square is that viewing NCLB and 10% for Public Education? Rhee is projected to spend millions for a re-design K-8? Read results and that's been tried, before you spend the money.Public School and their associations and now view Charter and their associations.Then make a list of Private and their associations. They're taking off with the whole pie and the icecream and we want to see fair balance of interests on the slices. Fenty owes millions back to Fed's for medicaid ? Why ? Go to medicaid and they're budget has been cut to meet demands and some of it's caused disorganization that's systemic.If money had been spent to support, how many problems and millions could have been avoided ? We hired new leadership and help is on the way!Choice is Constitutional and respected but balance of fair interests is critical viewing whole.

Anonymous said...

Obama is going to double support for Charter ? Public Education on NCLB and 10% ! Does that mean the Public Education Team doubles in funding too ? Just not sure you can merge the teams but good luck.