Kenney, 52, who's worked in Philadelphia schools for 30 years, said he's angry that the district sent layoff notices on New Year's Eve to the remaining 1,400 blue-collar union employees who drive buses and keep buildings heated and cleaned. If the layoffs go through, the district would essentially wipe out the entire unionized staff of Local 32BJ of Service Employees International Union District 1201. The district sent layoff notices to more than 800 workers in September and to 600 others in July.
In a statement, district spokesman Fernando Gallard said that due to cutbacks in state and federal funding, the district last spring began asking all unions for concessions totaling a combined $75 million.
"Unfortunately, members of the bargaining unit Local 32BJ District 1201 . . . recently rejected a tentative agreement we had reached with its leadership," Gallard said. "As a result, the district is now forced to take other steps to achieve these needed savings."
He said the district will continue to meet with the union leadership to discuss ways to meet savings goals.
The layoff notices don't necessarily mean that 1,400 people will be laid off, but they do signal that the district is ready to play hard ball on negotiations. If issues go unresolved, each set of layoffs would take effect one year from the date of the notices.
George Ricchezza, the leader of 32BJ SEIU District 1201, said the union will have talks with the district next week. "Putting nearly 3,000 [workers] out of work is not the answer," he said.
Ella Martin, who has cleaned Bok High for the last 15 years, was stunned at the layoff notice.
"I was hurt. I was crying," she said. "I really felt we were being disrespected. All kinds of bad feelings went through me. I have children. How am I supposed to make it?"
Kenney said if the district plans to bring in outside contractors to run the school, it won't be easy.
"We know these buildings," he said. "Each building has its own idiosyncrasy in how to run the boilers. You just don't press a button."
In other action yesterday, Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said his union will go to arbitration to fight the layoffs of 141 school employees, including 47 school nurses, who received layoff notices just before Christmas.