Four staffers, two parents go on hunger strike for safe schools

STEPHANIE AARONSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Demonstrators chant and hold signs yesterday outside Gov. Corbett's Center City office, where they are protesting school-district cuts. Four protesters are staging a hunger strike over staff layoffs.
STEPHANIE AARONSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Demonstrators chant and hold signs yesterday outside Gov. Corbett's Center City office, where they are protesting school-district cuts. Four protesters are staging a hunger strike over staff layoffs.
Posted: June 19, 2013

THESE DAYS, public protests and political talk may seem to be regularly scheduled as the countdown to the state's June 30 budget deadline looms, but one group has aimed for "a different kind of attention."

Four members of local unions, two of whom have students in Philly public schools, began a hunger strike early yesterday in front of Gov. Corbett's Center City field office. No food or juice, just water.

The group from Unite Here Locals 634 and 274 is demanding more funding to ensure the safety of the city's schools now that the district has sent layoff notices in the past 11 days to nearly 3,900 workers, including 1,200 school aides, which are represented by Local 634.

"We had to figure out a way to bring a different kind of attention to what the government and people in power are doing because they're pretty much turning their backs on public education in Philadelphia," said hunger-striker Mike Mullins, 39, secretary-treasurer for Local 274, which represents hotel and food-service workers.

The support staff keep students safe in lunchrooms and throughout the school, Unite Here officials say.

Earlene Bly, 46, of Local 274, said she wanted state legislators to walk in her shoes: "What if it was their children that was going to a school that they felt was unsafe?"

"They know in their hearts what makes a school work," Mullins said. The funding being offered "is not even close to that."

Mullins and Bly have kids in district schools: This fall, Mullins' two children will attend Penn Alexander, and Bly's daughter will enroll in Roxborough High.

While they spoke under a tent on Broad Street near Walnut, fellow fasters Pat Norris, a cafeteria worker at Cayuga Elementary, and Marcia Teagle, a cafeteria worker at Julia de Burgos Elementary, were away at a meeting for laid-off staff.

The group had prepared for the strike by weaning themselves off food over the past few days, only drinking juice and fruit smoothies this weekend, Bly said.

The protesters were making arrangements to sleep in Arch Street United Methodist Church and return to Broad and Walnut daily.

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