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Budget cuts will slash services and thousands of jobs
NYC's Bloomberg targets workers and the poor

By Michael Ware | April 25, 2003 | Page 11

NEW YORK--Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the world's 63rd wealthiest individual with a personal fortune of $4.8 billion, is demanding that children, the elderly, the sick and city workers pay for New York's $3.8 billion budget deficit.

The mayor's new budget contains at least $600 million in cuts and 5,000 layoffs. In the likely event that the state legislature refuses to allow New York City to reinstate a commuter tax, the mayor will cut $1 billion more and lay off another 10,000 workers from the largely Black and Latino municipal workforce.

Claiming that an 18 percent increase in property taxes is already a heavy burden for businesses to bear, Bloomberg and New York Gov. George Pataki have refused to target corporations for higher taxes, saying they would "kill" jobs. Layoffs, they claim, are a better solution!

In reality, businesses saw their taxes cut during Wall Street's profit orgy of the late 1990s. The people who lost ground during the boom are now expected to pay for the recession with drastic cuts to services and pink slips. It's hard to imagine something more enraging when you see how well New York's upper crust already lives.

The mayor's worst-case scenario potentially includes:

--Cutting $120 million from the Department of Education and imposing 3,200 layoffs that would hit all after-school programs, half of summer school programs and 11,000 day-care slots;

--Closing 31 pools, 21 recreation centers, 15 senior centers, 12 child health clinics and two zoos;

--Closing 30 to 40 additional firehouses, mostly in minority neighborhoods;

--Implementing massive cuts to the city's hospitals, parks, transportation, homeless and elderly services.

This is in addition to $2 billion in cuts to the state's Medicaid program proposed by Pataki.

Bloomberg also wants major concessions from the remaining workers in AFSCME District Council 37.

Union leaders have called for a rally to stop the budget cuts at City Hall Park on April 29, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Antiwar forces and community groups will be joining the demonstration to oppose this attack on all of us.

"Bloomberg plans to cut everything"

PETER LAMPHERE talked to two city workers about how Bloomberg's proposed cuts are affecting their workplaces.

Lisa North
Lisa is a Reading Recovery teacher in Brooklyn, a former United Federation of Teachers (UFT) chapter leader and a member of Teachers Against the War. Reading Recovery is a program aimed at giving children at risk of reading failure the special attention they need to catch up with their peers. It is one of the city programs slated for budget cuts.

BLOOMBERG AND the city say they aren't affecting the classroom because they aren't laying off teachers. But they really are affecting the classroom. They're cutting extra services that do impact the classroom.

Our school aides help in the lunchroom and with pre-kindergarten programs. When you take away those helpers, it hurts the classroom. Our district already cut most of the paraprofessionals who helped out in kindergarten and first-grade classrooms at the beginning of the year. The state budget may cut all pre-kindergarten programs and increase class sizes in early grades.

Larger class sizes particularly affect "at risk" kids. It may not have as big an effect on kids in [wealthy districts like] Westchester, but all the research shows that it has a big effect on our kids. We used to have Project Read for "at risk" students from first to third grade. Those programs are gone. But taking away all after-school programs, that will really have an effect.

Last year, people were even more angry around the contract. This year, people at my school are very annoyed and angry with the cuts. Lots of my coworkers are antiwar, and they are making a direct connection between the war and the cuts. They feel that this is a direct diversion of money from education to the war. People are disgusted, but not many people are willing to do anything. I don't see people really being active around fighting this.

There are so many changes happening with this new standardized curriculum coming in. We don't know when we're going to be trained for it. People have even been sent notices asking about their summer availability. It's so overwhelming the amount of things that people are being faced with.

The UFT was organizing people last year around the contract. But now I don't see them organizing. For example, they're not telling chapter leaders, "Go around and sign up 10 people for the May 3 rally in Albany against the budget cuts." They're not organizing a letter writing campaign. All the UFT is doing is lobbying--they're very good at lobbying.

As for the union movement in the city as a whole, each union is doing separate rallies. Why not have one massive rally? If all the unions in the city brought their members together, it would really have an impact. It would also energize the individual rank-and-file members to do something. At my school, they seem to be spending more time organizing parents than teachers. I think the union has totally sold out children and education in favor of paychecks. For a one-time payment of a few hundred million in the last contract, they endorsed Gov. Pataki.

It seems to me that the cuts are targeting the weakest people. They're going after senior centers in poor neighborhoods. They're targeting early childhood programs, pre-kindergarten programs in poor neighborhoods. How do you have a voice if your child isn't even in the school system yet? They're targeting the working class and the working poor--the people that don't have a voice. Even the cuts are laying off the worst paid of the city workers.

The tax-the-rich proposal has come through the unions--AFSCME District Council 37, the UFT, Communication Workers of America and Service Employees International Union Local 1199 have this whole thing of taxing people who make over $250,000. The one tax that Pataki is saying that he would support is the sales tax--which is, of course, the most regressive tax imaginable. And then there are all these little things like tolls, parking tickets and user fees. Even people like [Republican State Senate Majority Leader] Joe Bruno are realizing that people are feeling the pinch. That's why they've taken up this tax-the-rich idea.

But of course, the rich don't want to pay too much. Their proposal is to tax everyone who makes more than $100,000 to spread it out a little. They've also been saying that you have to make it fair. Less than $100,000 upstate is poor, but in Westchester, if you're making over $100,000, you are "just getting by." They're talking about balancing out regionally so people in Westchester don't have to pay so much. But the parking ticket increases, the fare hikes for public transit--they don't talk about making that fair.

Harry Singh-Harrington
Harry is a train operator in the Bronx and a shop steward in the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

IT'S CLEAR that the working class is going to pay for the whole war. Bloomberg plans to cut everything--to close free lunch programs. I live in the Bronx, and there are lots of old people who live around here who can't prepare their own food and are dependent on delivered lunches.

The media is very hostile to what the unions say--they only print what Bloomberg says. For example, he ruled out any talk of a stock surcharge, saying that they could just take the revenue offshore.

It's becoming increasingly clear that the rich are the only ones benefiting from the war. First, there was the tax cut from Bush, and now it seems like all the programs are being taken away from the poor and given to the rich.

Most of the people at my workplace are Black, and they feel like I do. They are against the war and against the service cuts. A lot of them live in poor communities. Just because you're a unionized city worker doesn't mean your whole family is. Several coworkers have sons who are just out of jail. Their families will be directly affected by these cuts. Lots of city workers don't actually make that much--maybe $600--and then they take money out for your pension, and you have co-payments for your health care.

I'd like to see a general strike or some kind of joint action by city workers against the cuts. We just got stuck with this layoff provision in our contract--they took away the no-layoff clause. I was against the contract for that and other reasons. I don't think they take away layoff clauses unless they are planning to lay people off. What they did to us a couple of years ago was to threaten to lay people off to get us to sign a contract with lots of other concessions.

The press and the mayor think that municipal workers are too unionized. Even Bush is trying to break unions. He decertified federal workers in the Homeland Security Department. It's all part of the same offensive.

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