NEW YORK — June 16, 2010. On Wednesday, June 16, thousands of people showed up at New York’s City Hall to protest the a number of serious city and state budget cuts. Public school teachers, PTAs and students showed up in large numbers. They spoke about schools facing giant service cuts while less than a week ago the news media reported that the top officials in the Department of Education’s headquarters at Tweed Hall gave themselves very extravagant pay raises.
Union leaders and elected officials held the Mayor responsible for the proposed cuts.
Steve Cassidy, of the Firefighters union said “Bloomberg wants us to pay for his mistakes”.
Unions turnout was high. There were crowds of union faithful from the UFT, DC37, AFSCME, Teamesters, TWU Local 100, CWA 1180, SEIU/1199, DC 237 City Housing workers, the International Union of Operating Engineers, the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the Professional Staff Congress from the CUNY system, the NY State Nurses Association, and the American Federation of Musicians Local 802. Lively music for the event was provided by Local 802. There were contingents of IBEW members, Lifeguards, and other unions. Norman Seabrook of the COBA, Corrections Officers Benevolent Association, and Pat Lynch of the PBA spoke at the rally. The rally was endorsed by the Central Labor Council. UFT president Michael Mulgrew hosted the event.
The protest was also sponsored by the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the NAACP, the NY Labor and Religion Coalition, NY Charter Protection Association, La Fuenta, and many other organizations.
Mayor Bloomberg has proposed severe cuts to schools which include elimination of many assistant teachers even in special education classes. He wants the elimination of many school nurses, maintainance workers, and after school and weekend test prep programs. He has repeatedly cut back on the fire department and looks to close firehouses in this crowded city. Aditional cuts may affect the departments of buildings, parks, health, and sanitation. Bloomberg has laid off many city workers and announced plans to lay off many more. In the MTA, hundreds have been laid off recently while the subway stations are desperately in need of cleaning, painting, and major repairs. Speakers spoke about too many service cuts to list.
Over the past 30 years many city departments have privatized large sections of their agencies. Speakers reported that when this was done the politicians said that the city would save money because the private organizations would have lower labor costs. In reality it boiled down to union busting. Often private organizations had much lower labor cost but very high salary and expenses for the owners of the agencies. Speakers reported that the mayor wants to increase privatization and has been hiring more and more consultants to work in the city departments. Often, consultants are paid many times the salary of city employees doing the same job. Many economic studies show that the mayor’s plans will not save money for the city services — however the money may be going to businesses that the mayor likes. The meals on wheels programs would work this way. As the small not for profit charity groups get pushed out of the food delivery service, the mayor wants to replace them with a large business that will make a profit delivering thousands of lunches a day. Bloomberg is also cutting funds for the private agencies. He has announced his intention to completely close the contracts of over 50 senior centers and possibly closing another 75. He wants to eliminate many programs for seniors and the handicapped — including drastic cuts to Access a Ride, cuts to homeless shelters, and preschools.
Many private agencies, such as food pantries and over 260 homeless shelters were started by citizen’s groups because the government was not providing these necessary services. In recent years the number of people using these facilities has skyrocketed. In 2008, every month brought another record breaking number of people applying to homeless shelters. Bloomberg wants to cut money or the help that these groups have started to receive from the government.
The state and city are planning cuts of over one hundred million dollars to the CUNY colleges. The CUNY system has already cut the number of freshmen applications for next year. The SUNY system is also being drastically cut.
Speakers stressed that citizens must fight back against these cuts and urged attendees to call, write and meet with state and city officials. Speakers said to contact our city council members as soon as possible as the next step. Additionally, several speakers urged concerned persons to contact the governor, at 518.474.8390, and state senators and assembly members.
Comptroller John Liu talked about how in this “Great Recession we are in,” it make no sense to lay off people or privatize or cut necessary services .Public Advocate Di Blasio spoke about we can’t morally close down counseling centers, day care centers after school programs, or many of the other cuts the mayor wants. Manhattan Borough President, Scott Stringer said, ” I am ashamed of what the city is doing” with the lay offs and service cuts. He said the unions have been helping the city by investing in the city but in return the city is turning it’s back on the unions and their families.
When Mr Bloomberg ran for mayor the first time he promised that he would never spend a single dollar of the taxpayers money on sports stadiums because the city needs to spend the money on schools, and infrastructure. Speakers drew a huge response when they talked about this failed campaign promise.
Bill Reed, Bud Korotzer and Thomas Good contributed reporting to this article.