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Workers Protest Hartford School Layoffs

By DAGNY SALAS | Courant Staff Writer

July 15, 2008

About 50 to 60 people marched in front of Hartford City Hall Monday afternoon to protest recent school district layoffs and an increase in health insurance costs to district retirees.

Blaring into a bullhorn, Mark Blumenthal, president of AFSCME Local 566, which represents district custodians, rallied the demonstrators with a series of chants.

"We need public awareness," Blumenthal said. "What's going on needs to be heard. We are part of the city."

In the past several weeks, at least 85 school employees have been laid off, most without much warning, according to school employee union leaders. The number of positions eliminated is 73.4, according to district documents.

Some protesters, like Stanley Shepard, were drawn to the rally by what they described as the district's lack of answers and poor management. Shepard had been a custodian for four years until about two weeks ago. That's when he received a letter dated June 13 saying he was laid off.

"Why was it sitting on someone's desk?" he said. "Let it be known publicly I feel I was laid off unjustly. I wanted more notice."

Health insurance costs were also part of Monday's rally.

Marie Ciccarelli, 72, a former food services worker, retired from the school system Jan. 31. At that time, she said she was paying $286 a month for health insurance. As of July 1, she was told she would have to pay $630 a month. Her pension is $459 a month. Those numbers don't add up, she said.

"That's what hurts," she said. "I wouldn't have retired. I would've worked a little longer."

Before the city council meeting Monday night, Mayor Eddie Perez issued a press release extending to Sept. 1 the moratorium on raising health insurance premiums for retired city workers. The item was also scheduled for discussion at the council meeting. Perez announced the original 30-day moratorium on the higher health insurance rates in late June as part of a controversial plan to save the city $2 million this year.

Minority council leader Larry Deutsch said Monday afternoon that the council didn't realize how the supposed savings would affect retirees.

"Many people were not aware of the specific nature of it," he said. "I share part of the blame for not looking into this."

Schools spokesman David Medina said the school system would not create a similar moratorium for district retirees' health insurance costs. To issue one would cost the district $450,000 a month, he said, which would necessitate cutting educational programs and additional staff.

"The only way to do it would be for the city to cover ongoing health insurance costs," he said. "I don't know that they would."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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