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De Blasio Says Pre-K Workers Deserve $15 an Hour

By  Jeff Mays and Amy Zimmer | December 29, 2015 6:44pm 

 A student at a new pre-k site in Brooklyn's District 15.
A student at a new pre-k site in Brooklyn's District 15.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

MANHATTAN — Mayor Bill de Blasio said he’d like to see the workers at city-funded pre-k centers boost their pay up to $15 an hour — and he hopes to make progress on salary negotiations in the “next few weeks.”

While the mayor has made expanding and improving pre-k a centerpiece of his administration, many of the educators at city-funded pre-k programs are feeling demoralized, defeated and are struggling to stay afloat.

DNAinfo New York reported exclusively on Tuesday that many are on food stamps and other forms of public assistance after not receiving a raise in a decade as they await a new contract.

"We are in negotiations right now with the organizations that represents those employees. They don't work for us directly, they work for nonprofit organizations,” de Blasio said Tuesday at an unrelated conference. “We'd like to see them do better and we're talking about ways right now to help them do better.”

A coalition of these sites recently wrote a letter to the mayor asking for wage increases for their staffers.

They cited some stark results from a survey of their workforce: roughly 61 percent of the staffers have incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level; 17 percent receive food stamps; and 55 percent of them or their children receive Medicaid.

Many teaching assistants, teachers’ aides and other staffers at the roughly 400 EarlyLearn centers across the city earn less than the $15 per hour wage guidelines established for the fast food industry that de Blasio supported.

The mayor initially distanced himself from the issue since the workers aren’t directly employed by the city, but funded by city-paid contracts. But he then clarified that their wages are part of a collective bargaining process.

“Our goal is to get everyone to $15 an hour in this whole city whether they work for a nonprofit, whether they work for city government, whether they work for a private sector firm. That happens in stages,” he said.

"This particular issue you are talking about I care about deeply because it's people who work with children, and I want to see them do better but it is subject to collective bargaining," the mayor added. "But I do feel hopeful that we will make progress in just the next few weeks."

These educators have longer days and years than their Department of Education counterparts — with class from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., including summers — yet they earn far less than DOE teachers.

Their starting salaries are between 9 to 38 percent lower than DOE teachers, and they haven’t received raises in 10 years.

"It is encouraging to hear the mayor acknowledge the disparities, recognize that this is a problem and commit to making progress on the issue over the next several weeks,” said David Nocenti, executive director of Union Settlement, which runs seven centers and a network of home based providers in East Harlem, making it the city’s 10th largest early childhood education provider.

“I look forward seeing the details of his proposal."