WRB Panelists Call Fenty Administration a ‘Catastrophe’

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.rnrn”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) (Mayor Faulted for Crisis at Public Employee Board 6/24/08 UC), abolishment of the Labor-Management Partnership Program (Labor Updates 4/7/08 UC) 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.rnrnOther 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.” rnrnCandi 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” (School Reform Being Used to Undermine Unions 11/13/08 UC) Maria Jones (Parents and Students Fight to Save Schools 11/19/08 UC), 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.rnrnMarketta 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 (DC Social Workers Warn Of ‘Downward Spiral’ 11/18/08 UC). 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. rnrnRoy 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 (DC Mental Health Workers Fight Outsourcing 10/21/08 UC and Fenty Privatization Plan Hurts Patients, Helps Companies 11/14/08 UC). “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).rnrnDC 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 timeframe 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.rn- report/photos by Andy RichardsrnMetropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO rnCopyright 2008, All rights reserved. rnrnTo view pictures of the hearing visit http://flickr.com/photos/32622018@N07/rn

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