By Emily Margaretten
City College administration sent out 42 pink slips to classified staff employees on Nov. 2, setting up a showdown with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local 1021, which contested the layoffs as a breach of contract.
Interim Vice Chancellor Dianna Gonzales emailed department chairs on Nov. 2 notifying them of staff reductions that could go into effect Jan. 3.
“The administration’s bargaining team is continuing to meet with SEIU to reduce the need to rely on layoffs to balance the budget,” Gonzales said.
A document attached to Gonzales’ email identified 42 layoffs, fewer than the 50 layoffs cited at the Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 28.
Custodial services could experience the largest number of reductions with 11 layoffs. Human Resources, Financial Aid, Payroll, Transitional Studies, Institutional Support, and Library and Learning Resources could each sustain losses of two staff reductions.
But even more employees could be impacted. “Employees served layoff notices will be able to displace other (additional) employees per Civil Service rules and contract,” SEIU 1021 said in a written statement. This process is known as “bumping.”
With bumping, 68 employees could be impacted by the layoffs. The majority of those affected would be women of color, SEIU 1021 said.
SEIU 1021 strongly opposed the layoffs at the board meeting. SEIU 1021 President Athena Steff said the administration had not entered into good faith negotiations.
“The district issuing SEIU layoff notices of 50 classified workers is based on a lie,” she said. “For any union to enter into negotiations … both the employer and the union must have the pertinent data and information in order to engage in good faith bargaining.”
Steff continued, “Since the first concession letter the district sent to SEIU back in May of 2020, SEIU has asked for and has yet to receive any real answers to the RFIs [request for information] related to our enormous vacant positions and our classified priority hiring mode.”
Classified Senate President Maria Salazar-Colón denounced the administration’s proposal to contract out classified staff positions. She urged them to follow Article 30 in their Collective Bargaining Agreement, which calls for transparency and good faith discussions before contracting out work.
Several other SEIU 1021 members criticized the administration’s plan to lay off employees while outsourcing these same jobs to non-union contractors.
David Delgado, who works in the finance department, questioned the administration’s intent of hiring contractors, which was supposed to be a temporary solution until they filled classified staff positions. The district meanwhile has implemented a hiring freeze for classified staff.
Gonzales said they were recruiting for classified staff despite the hiring freeze. “Those who have worked with me know that I’ve used the term, ‘You can shop but don’t go through the checkout stand,’ until further clarification,” she said.
Trustee Alan Wong tabled the motion to outsource classified work. “I felt it was important that we maintain in-house stuff as much as possible,” he said in an interview. “It didn’t make sense for us to be contracting out services when we’re looking at potential layoffs.”
Wong added, “If a temp agency can successfully find us employees and find the labor to do the work then why can’t we be successful in finding employees ourselves with civil service and union benefits?”
Staff cuts at City College are not new. “Already, there are roughly half as many classified staff now as there were in 2000—from nearly 1,000 twenty years ago down to just over 500 now,” SEIU 1021 said in its written statement.
Jody Wirt, a classified staff employee in the broadcast electronic media arts department, spoke about the downsizing of City College as a result of poor budget management. “This is another chapter in that story,” she said.
The prospect of taking a pay cut was especially hard for her. Wirt has worked at City College for 12 years, and the only time she received a pay raise was two years ago. “I waited so long to get a cost-of-living increase,” she said. She worried that bargaining concessions would rollback these gains.
Wirt also questioned the methodology the administration used when deciding which classified staff members to lay off. She said there was no discussion about it with department chairs or deans.
The Department Chairperson Council (DCC) discussed these concerns in a letter sent to administrative leadership on Nov. 4. It stated that many of the selected staff “were placed on the list without consultation with their immediate supervisors and without known criteria.”
“This action,” the letter continued, “Is in violation of the District-DCC contract Article 9A,” which states that the administration should notify departments and programs about “substantive decisions” affecting them and provide opportunities for input.
Harry Bernstein, a long-time faculty member in the music department, discussed the fallout of not consulting with department heads about layoffs. High-level administrators often do not know how classified staff support students and faculty.
“People may have particular responsibilities in the department that provides other functions in addition to the secretarial work itself,” Bernstein said.
Akiyo Mineo-Aldis, an intake clerk at the Child Development Lab School, described the work that she performs that often exceeds the expectations of her job description. “I speak with so many parents, students, and community members,” she said. “I sometimes counsel them and listen to their stories.”
“An outsourced agent would not do that,” Mineo-Aldis added.
Both SEIU 1021 leadership and City College administrators declined interviews for this news story. The college said it was in “the initial stages of impact negotiations” with labor leaders and wanted “to provide the time and space required to address this sensitive issue.”
SEIU 1021 has not communicated details about the negotiations with its members. “I’ve only received a Thanksgiving flier,” Wirth said. “I’m on pins and needles.”