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Philadelphia members of the Service Employees International Union protested the public education budget proposal at a workers’ rally on Wednesday afternoon.

Credit: , Christina Prudencio, ,

Local union workers marched in protest of a recent city proposal on Wednesday afternoon.

The rally, led by a Philadelphia branch of the Service Employees International Union, denounced the School Reform Commission’s public education proposal. More than 1,500 people attended the rally, which started at the Municipal Service Building on 15th and John F. Kennedy streets.

Among the list of complaints was the mass layoff of SEIU 32BJ members. All 2,700 members have received layoff notices, which will go into effect this summer. The move was part of the SRC’s proposed solution to budget issues, which also includes the closure of 64 district schools over the next five years and the addition of charter schools.

“What the district is doing is saying that there’s somebody who can do it better than we can. It’s a really concentrated effort to break up the public school system,” said Robert McGrogan, president of the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators.

Many SEIU members view SRC’s plan as privatization of the public school system in Philadelphia. Bus drivers, mechanics and cafeteria and maintenance workers held signs that said, “Save our schools — stop privatizing!” and chanted “Shame on you!”

The group marched down Broad Street and reached the School District Building at 12:50 p.m., where union leaders listed their grievances through a megaphone. At 1:10 p.m., about 12 SEIU leaders slipped through security to request a meeting with SRC in the School District Building. After they were refused, the group marched toward City Hall.

At 1:30 p.m., however, the protesters stopped at the intersection of Broad and Race streets and sat down in the middle of the road.

“The decision was made at that point to engage in peaceful civil disobedience to call attention to our message to save the public schools,” SEIU spokesperson Maia Davis said.

Between 1:30 and 2:00 p.m., 14 people were arrested, including 32BJ Pennsylvania State Director Gabe Morgan and District 1201 Area Director George Ricchezza. Other protesters dispersed once the arrests began.

Other organizations — such as Fight for Philly, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and Working America — participated in the rally to support the cause.

“If these good jobs are privatized, a lot of the benefits will probably go away,” said Kim McMurray, a 25-year-old member of Working America. “Now is not the time to be cutting jobs.”

Steven Seibert, a 46-year-old SEIU member in maintenance electronics, is worried about his layoff notice because of his 10-year-old son, who is paralyzed and needs constant care.

“I know the governor can find the money to support the kids in Philadelphia,” he said. “I hope this rally will help save our jobs.”

SEIU maintenance member Steve Antol is annoyed that the SRC has “run itself into the ground and is not being held accountable … [and the district] wants to pay less for teachers, maintenance and people who take care of the children.”

President of PFT Jerry Jordan is also disappointed with the proposal. “The district’s plan to outsource these positions to companies outside of Philadelphia is wrong and hasn’t been proven to be successful,” he said. “It’s just unacceptable that this plan is more about operating as a business as opposed to meeting educational needs of children in Philadelphia.”

Retired PFT member Sam Mastriano agreed. “The privatization efforts are really an attack on the lower half of the 99 percent,” he said. “I see no way that private corporations can do a better job than a funded, energized community can do.”

A vote on the budget plan proposed by SRC in April will take place on May 31.

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