I understand the City must eliminate jobs in the face of an economic crisis, but I was disheartened to see the Council give a new city manager cart blanche to terminate hundreds of city workers, including several essential beach maintenance assistants who have cleaned our Ocean Park beach bathrooms and lifeguard stations for 13-20 years respectively and are essential workers, experienced and knowledgeable in protecting our public health when thousands descend —and they will come again soon — on our beaches.
I am perplexed as to why the City is sending lay-off notices to this group of African American workers, who for years were exploited, misclassified “as needed”—denied sick pay and other benefits, though they worked full time—to give them 30 days before the City cuts off their health benefits in a pandemic ravaging hearts and lungs.
Who will replace these beach maintenance assistants, among the city’s lowest paid workers? Why are they being replaced at all—surely sanitation is not the place to cut in the best of times, let alone the worst.
To rub salt in the wound, the city manager’s budget recommendations, rubber stamped by our council with the exception of member Ana Marie Hara, calls for the elimination of worker classifications, so that once this pandemic is over it will be that much harder for any of the terminated workers, most of them lower paid employees, not those with six-digit salaries and hefty pensions, to be rehired for their job—perhaps renamed under a new classification in a bizarre move that belies harmonious labor relations.
Classification is an academic sounding word, but for those who hose down the harmful algae in the beach showers and scrub the bathroom walls, it is much more than that, for the classification “beach maintenance assistant” was created as redress for the years our city took advantage of these workers, misclassifying them, denying them gloves and masks when using strong chemicals, denying them the customary city-issued jackets in the hard winter rain.
I don’t know what to say to these workers who cannot believe our city leaders would cast aside the most experienced public health workers on our beaches. They are dumbfounded and so am I.
Save our beach maintenance assistants. Protect our public health.