Take Back DC: Protecting the Public Sector, Holding Elected Officials Accountable

While the scope and length of the current economic crisis is still unclear—unemployment rates are at a record high, the number of day laborers looking for work at Home Depot is growing and a quarter of DC residents are living below the poverty line– what is clear is that the Fenty administration is chipping away at our City’s safety net by selling off the public sector to private interests. This summer DC Jobs with Justice launched the Take Back DC campaign in conjunction with Empower DC, the American Federation of Government Employees and the Dominion of Cab Drivers to protect the public sector and hold elected officials accountable. rnrnPublic health is just one of the sectors on the chopping block. DC’s Addiction, Prevention and Recovery Administration shut down this month, putting hundreds of patients out on the street, as they wait for a private provider to be selected. A few months earlier, the Community Services Agency of the Department of Mental Health was also privatized. 800 patients are still not linked to providers. According to John Walker, President of AFGE Local 383, disability services are next despite opposition from the city’s Chief Financial Officer on the basis that the administration does not have the funds to privatize.rnrnThe Fenty administration has systematically ignored the City’s guidelines for privatization: workers have never received the right of first refusal as mandated; the City has been unable to show a 5% cost savings; and has repeatedly defied Council legislation meant to provide checks and balances. This fall, Fenty closed the doors to 13 childcare centers at DC Parks and Recreation (DPR), despite legislation requiring an impact-analysis of the closures. Hundreds of kids have been put out on the street, 160 union workers are now unemployed and the city just lost high-quality, badly-needed child care services in Wards 6,7 and 8 which have been provided since 1974. “I have no idea how I will be able to find childcare for my son,” said mother Jane Andrews. “Why did the Mayor shut down the centers? This is a federally funded program.” rnrn“Meanwhile, according to Ben Butler, President of AFGE Local 2741, Hartsock and the Mayor have been working to eliminate union positions by laying off workers and reconfiguring entire job categories as non-union for new hires. This is reminiscent of the closing of Franklin shelter last fall when the Fenty administration, defying Council legislation, broke down the beds ahead of schedule and moved them out of the building in the middle of the night.rnrnUnder pressure from Take Back DC, the Council amended the Budget Support Act to fund daycare services and in a separate motion, introduced a resolution to explore the initiation of a lawsuit against the executive for failure to follow the law regarding day care program closures. Then on October 6th, the Council denied the confirmation of Interim Director Ximena Hartsock on the basis that she engaged in irregular personnel practices, caused deteriorating staff morale, and failed to comply with the law. It’s unclear whether the centers will reopen but what is clear is that the Council needs to consider new strategies for holding the Fenty administration accountable. As for Franklin, the administration just put out a Request for Proposals to develop the shelter, one of the last properties DC owns downtown, into a commercial space. rnrn“The surplusing of public land is part of a larger attempt to privatize public resources and services,” concludes Parisa Norouzi, director of Empower DC and founder of the People’s Property Campaign. Take Back DC is a campaign led by labor and community groups working in solidarity through direct action to demand: an immediate halt to the privatization of public services and property; impact assessments of recently-privatized departments; a framework for transparent, inclusive community input; that the City honor union contracts and bargain in good faith; and fair wages for cab drivers and our City’s workers.

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