Wednesday, December 1, 2010

NYC layoffs falling disproportionately on minority groups, people with disabilities, union says

From The NY Times:

Since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced last month that the city would eliminate 10,000 jobs, workers have been preparing for details on where those cuts would be made.

At the Finance Department, layoffs appear to be falling disproportionately on minority groups and people with disabilities, according to one union representing city workers. But officials at the department say they are reorganizing to reduce expenses while bringing in more revenue for the city.

“Most of the people being laid off are minorities, and the people who are being brought in are other than minorities,” said Lillian Roberts, executive director of District Council 37, one of the largest unions for city workers.

Several categories of jobs are being eliminated entirely in the 1,840-person department, mostly low-level clerical positions. City records show that in recent years a large percentage of those jobs have been held by blacks.

One of the positions being eliminated is that of office machine aide, a job held by 71 people in the department. Ileanna Jones, who has learning disabilities and has worked at the department for six years, is one of them. “I need to be busy, and it’s busy here every day,” Ms. Jones, 40, said. “I have no idea where else I would go.”

Ms. Jones, along with about 40 percent of the other office machine aides, was hired as part of a city employment initiative for people with disabilities, called the 55-a program. The program can be a great way in the door, but advocates for the disabled say there is no assurance that people hired through it will get to stay on.

“When there are layoffs, often the 55-a people are the first to go,” said Frank Pennisi, the disability rights and access director at the Southern Tier Independence Center, an advocacy group. “I don’t think it’s a targeted, conscious thing — ‘Let’s get rid of the people with disabilities.’ I think it’s more like, ‘Let’s get rid of the lowest-level positions that we can do without.’ ”

The finance commissioner, David M. Frankel, said that the layoffs were intended to further efficiency, and that the job description of office machine aides included duties made obsolete by technology, like bookbinding. That these jobs are often held by people with disabilities, he said, “is simply happenstance.”

“No one was targeting anybody in any way shape or form,” said Mr. Frankel, who would not comment on the racial makeup of the layoffs.

Though the department plans to let go of 129 employees — on top of 60 laid off in March — it is hiring about 130 people in openings like tax auditor and technology worker.

Many of the new employees will make over $100,000, while the typical salary of an office machine aide is $30,000. But Mr. Frankel said that many of the new employees were replacing outside consultants for a substantial savings, and that tax auditors in particular, who make up most of the new hires, generated a great deal of revenue for the city. “There will be people caught up in this change,” he said. “It’s horribly unfortunate, but it’s reality.”