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Workers protest layoffs as unfair

The union representing more than 100 blue-collar employees of Buffalo Public Schools turned out in force Wednesday at the Board of Education meeting to protest what members say is a disproportionate number of layoffs for its members.

Twenty-one members of Local 264, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, who work out of the system's service center on Bailey Avenue, are targeted for layoffs projected to save about $1.2 million.

Other unions are slated for a greater number of layoffs -- more than 100 teacher's aides, for example. But those unions are larger, so the percentage of jobs to be eliminated would be lower.

Bill Travis, Local 264 president, and several members appealed to the board Wednesday to restore their jobs.

"In looking at the layoff list; it is clear the pain was not distributed evenly," Travis said. "The layoff of 21 percent of our workers will destroy 21 families."

The union's 107 members have not had a pay increase since 2003, he said, and many have had to take second jobs to compensate. One union member said base salaries are about $30,000 a year.

The union represents a variety of workers, including locksmiths, laborers, machinists, mechanics, computer repairers, truck drivers and furniture repairers.

Members questioned how the work would be done once so many jobs are eliminated.

Mark Whitcomb, a cabinetmaker, said the furniture repair department would be reduced to one mechanic and one laborer after he loses his job. The department spends the summer repairing chairs and desks before schools reopen.

"I do not possibly see how we're going to get enough furniture into the schools," he said.

In interviews outside the board room, union members said that hiring outside vendors to do their work would violate their contract, and they would file grievances.

Many of the workers help with moving furniture and other items when schools relocate temporarily as part of the system's reconstruction project. Board members questioned whether enough people would be available to complete the moves this summer.

James Kane, the superintendent's chief of staff, said 13 temporary workers have been hired for a few months.

"That's one of the ways we're going to get the work done," he said.

e-mail: mpasciak@buffnews.com

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