Profiles of Solidarity: Labor and Community Unite to Protect Public Sector

This winter, under the shadows of an economic crisis, hundreds of DC residents packed the DC City Council chamber to listen to the testimonies of health and education workers, parents, students, advocates and leaders of the labor community at a hearing held by the DC Workers Rights Board on public sector services. The testimonies presented unearthed a series of alarming trends, including the lack of due process in hiring and firing of public sector workers, the concentration of power in the Mayor’s office combined with a failure by the City Council to provide necessary oversight, the absence of accountability and transparency, and the defunding, neglect and privatization of essential services. Meet two leaders, Johnnie Walker and Kimberley Johnson, who are working to turn the tide on privatization and building DC JwJ!rnrnJohnnie Walker. President, American Federation of Government Employee Local 383rnBorn in Ethiopia, Mr. Walker always had an interest in activism and politics. Prior to working at the DC Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), Mr. Walker attended Howard University where he recorded and hosted a cable jazz show and beat reported for a hip hop news paper. After a decade of working at the DYRS he became a steward, then chief steward, and in 1999, president of AFGE local 383. Mr. Walker first worked in solidarity with DC JwJ during the Spring of 2001, when unions, community organizations, environmentalists, students and faith-based activists organized a week of actions against the Free Trade Area of the Americas meeting which took place April 16-22, 2001 in Quebec. There Mr. Walker formed lasting partnerships that would come to the support the struggle of public sector workers 8 years later.rnrnThis Spring Mayor Fenty announced he would make up this year’s $800 million shortfall by laying off 1,631 public sector workers without due process. The Public Employees Relations Board (PERB), responsible for overseeing public workers’ grievances, has not met for two years because the Mayor has not nominated qualified appointees to the board. For the last two years, city workers have watched their savings disappear as they wait in limbo for their grievances to be processed. For example, six Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) social workers reinstated by the DC arbitrator last year have still not been able to return to work and receive their back pay because the PERB board has a backlog of over 60 cases. “Despite this shameful situation, I’m hopeful that with the continued assistance and dedication of the DC JwJ coalition we will be able to change the political landscape in DC for the better,” said Mr. Walker.rnrnKimberly Johnson. Organizer, People’s Property CampaignrnKimberly joined the People’s Property Campaign (PPC) during the summer of 2008 as the struggle to save the Franklin Shelter came to a head. “Mayor Fenty’s blatant disregard for community voices, and the homeless in particular, highlighted the need for legislation that would strengthen transparency and accountability in the sale and disposal of public property,” says Kimberly. “So I joined the campaign. I immediately felt a connection between the PPC and my own values. I was impressed by how well organized they were, and felt that my input was well utilized. When you sell community spaces like schools, shelters and recreation centers, you destroy the community. Rather than selling public land to developers, the DC government could use it to expand government services, and house government agencies, community organizations and local businesses.”rnrnThe PPC is a resident-led campaign to stop the sale of public property for private profit. This year, Councilmember Thomas re-introduced Bill 17-0527, which lays out multiple layers of community planning and input to protect the public’s interest. It is currently awaiting a hearing in the committee on Government Operations and the Environment. “The sale of public property affects all sectors of the economy, so the DC JwJ coalition is strategically placed to push to get this bill passed. Endorse the campaign, host events in your community, go to ANC meetings and contact your Councilmember so that this year the bill doesn’t get stuck in committee!”

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