6/25/08

Gov't-union takes dues hit in labor-state

Public housing security privatized over SEIU objection

For at the fifth time in the last two years, the Newark Housing Authority is laying off staff and contracting with a private company to provide services. The authority's board of commissioners is set to vote Thursday on a $4.5 million contract to hire Winfield Security Corp. of Bloomfield to provide unarmed security guards at all of its senior sites and camera coverage at all buildings. Eighty security guards now on the authority's payroll will be laid off.

Executive Director Keith Kinard said the authority needs 120 guards to provide security at all senior buildings. It would cost the authority $7.86 million to provide those services in-house, Kinard said.

Since Kinard arrived almost two years ago, the troubled authority has privatized its housing inspection, payroll, supply delivery and housing voucher program. The authority has laid off almost half its workforce in the last two years.

Chief administrative officer Tory Gunsolley said many authority security guards are not certified by the state but make an average salary of $28,000 and cost the authority an average of $40,000 a piece when adding in benefits.

The nine accepted bids offered certified security guards at a total of about $30,000, said Kinard. Both acknowledge that Winfield pays lower wages than the authority and offers less benefits.

Rahaman Muhammad, president of Service Employees International Union Local 617, represents the authority's security guards. He said the agency could have provided training for the guards and supplemented their ranks with per diem employees instead of laying them off.

"For some reason the Newark Housing Authority wants to privatize everything. They are getting out of the business of housing poor folks and employing poor folks," Muhammad said.

He also called the layoffs and continuing privatization of authority functions hypocritical, given the raises that Kinard's executive staff has received over the last year. The chief financial officer, Debra Toothman, received a $19,500 raise in January and chief operations officer, Janet Abraham, received a $15,000 raise in December, among others.

Kinard said the security issue is about efficiency and not money. His executive staff has three less people than his predecessor's executive staff. Combined, Kinard said his staff makes a total of $200,000 less than his predecessor's staff.

(nj.com)

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