Protecting government jobs

African-Americans have tended to view civil service employment as their form of risk management against the racism in the private sector.  However, the economic downturn is causing new challenges even for jobs previously thought stable.  This case in Washington, D.C. is a microcosm of some of the difficulties falling on some of the lowest-paid government workers.

Atty. Donald M. Temple has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of these child-care workers to challenge the backdoor efforts to privatize their positions.  We’ve heard about the likes of Gov. Mark Sanford turning down federal money to avoid spending local dollars, but it’s quite another thing to see black public officials resorting to the same tricks.

Jonetta Rose Barras: Fenty ignores D.C. law
By: Jonetta Rose Barras
Examiner Columnist
September 3, 2009
It’s not surprising the American Federation of Government Employees-Local 2741 filed in federal court a lawsuit against Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, hoping to prevent the firing of day care workers at the Department of Parks and Recreation. What’s baffling is the D.C. Council hasn’t taken similar action, although the executive consistently has challenged its authority.
In May, the council passed legislation that prohibited the mayor from privatizing DPR day care services until Fenty presented an impact report. While that bill was approved unanimously, it was superfluous.
More than five years ago, the council established by law procedures for privatizing any government service. Among other things, it requires that prior to any such action the mayor submit a report to the council that proves a minimum 5 percent savings would be achieved and indicates no adverse effect on the city’s economic health. It also mandates workers are provided an opportunity to bid on any contract.
Fenty has ignored both measures.
“The city’s action in terminating these workers and ending the program is patently and defiantly illegal. The executive is clearly violating the privatization law,'” said Donald Temple, a noted District lawyer who is representing AFGE. The union had its first appearance yesterday (Wednesday) before Judge Emmett Sullivan. It also filed for a temporary restraining order.
Enforcing the law shouldn’t be the responsibility of an employees’ union. The council should step in.
Ward 5 Councilman Harry Thomas, who chairs the committee with oversight of the DPR, told me “Generally the council has to be in session [for legal action to be taken]. Also, it gets awkward when you have the branches of government fighting each other.”
But, in 1990, then-Mayor Sharon Pratt (Kelly) and the council got in a spat over the legislature’s demand that it approve certain contracts. The council, led by John Wilson, took her to court. It won.
Fenty and the council began battling over privatizing day care last fall, just after then-DPR Director Clark Ray said he was told to stop taking applications. That order came as many parents were searching for programs in which to enroll their children. Prematurely closing down the process suppressed enrollment numbers, giving the false impression there wasn’t sufficient demand. Not surprisingly, DPR’s day care 2009 budget was cut. Deborah Gist, then-state superintendent of education, told me the federally funded program is based on enrollment. Fewer students meant less money. Ray was forced to close centers and fire workers.
By then, Fenty had issued a request for proposals to contract out the services. If he is allowed to continue with his plan, all workers could be terminated and the current centers will be closed by month’s end.
“I haven’t seen anything like this in my life,” said Thomas.
I have. Marion Barry; he ignored federal and local tax laws. Now, Fenty is ignoring local privatization laws.
District elected officials are becoming a lawless bunch.
Jonetta Rose Barras, host of WPFW’s
“D.C. Politics with Jonetta,” can be reached at Rosebook1@aol.com

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