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Custodians’ Union Says Philadelphia School District Is Trying To Strangle Them

(Members of District 1201 of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union stand outside Philadelphia school district headquarters.  Credit: Pat Loeb)

(Members of District 1201 of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union stand outside Philadelphia school district headquarters. Credit: Pat Loeb)

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By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The head of the union that represents custodians in Philadelphia public schools says the school district is bargaining in bad faith, trying to dismantle the union while obtaining millions of dollars in concessions from workers.

The Philadelphia School District is basing its budget next year on a lot of assumptions, including millions of dollars in concessions from employees. The teachers’ union has refused to renegotiate, but school custodians have been trying to work out a new agreement.

Today, union leaders expressed frustration with the process.

George Richezza, director of the custodians’ union, says he understands the district is in a crisis.

“We’ve offered concessions in health care (and) wage freezes,” he said today, as they resumed negotiations with school officials.  “We’ve offered so many concessions — we believe it’s in the neighborhood of 20 million dollars.”

richezza george seiu 32bj  loeb Custodians Union Says Philadelphia School District Is Trying To Strangle Them

(George Richezza, director of District 1201 of SEIU Local 32BJ. Credit: Pat Loeb)

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Richezza says the cuts they offered amount to $6,000 per member for a workforce that already makes, on average, less than $35,000 a year.

He says the union has learned that district officials were seeking legal authority in Harrisburg to cancel labor contracts and set terms unilaterally.

“We thought we were talking to the school district in good faith and bargaining, and it turns out we have people behind us trying to dismantle the system rather than negotiate in good faith with us,” Richezza said.

The district says it will lay off all 2,700 members of the custodians’ unioin and contract out their jobs if it doesn’t get the concessions it wants.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard says the layoff process will start Saturday if negotiations in the next few days are unsuccessful.

“We’re looking at identifying savings that will allow us to hit our financial goals and save jobs,” Gallard said today.

Even with the concessions, the district faces a $218-million deficit.

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