New York's Real Poorest

Cops and teachers cry poverty, but it's minority day care workers who feel the pinch

But parents largely supported the workers. Unlike public schools, which struggle to attract parent participation, day care centers have long been able to count on a cadre of parent volunteers who understand what every study shows—that early-childhood education is the strongest grounding for good schooling.

"They call us babysitters, but I have a master's from City College," said Linda Peterson, 46, a teacher for 18 years at a center in the Bronx's Highbridge section. "We have the same educational background as teachers but we make a third less. We're open from 8:30 in the morning to 6 in the evening and we work through the summers. I don't think we have half the holidays teachers do. I work with three-year-olds and I love doing what I do, but I don't see what we have to give back, like the mayor's been saying."

Julie Dent, director of the Audrey Johnson Center in Bushwick, started as a teacher's aide and went on to get her master's degree. "My parents support us completely," Dent said. "They want their kids in an educational setting. Most are working their way off of welfare, at jobs, or in school. A lot of our kids leave day care being able to read already. They're the ones who are going to do well on the mayor's third-grade test. I don't understand why [Bloomberg] doesn't value that."

Shouting to be heard: Day care strikers at City Hall
photo: Cary Conover
Shouting to be heard: Day care strikers at City Hall

There were no movie stars at the Wednesday rally. Brian McLaughlin, president of the city's Central Labor Council, in prominent attendance at Tuesday's event, was also among the missing outside City Hall the next day. An aide said that McLaughlin, a Queens assemblyman, was in Albany, perhaps yet another argument why New York's unions need a full-time leader.

Bloomberg's official stance is a tough one, even harsher than his words for larger, better-off unions. "The mayor has said he doesn't feel the taxpayers should be responsible for picking up the costs for their failure to reach an agreement in the previous round of contract talks," said a City Hall spokesman.

But that's just more pre-election smoke, a sop for those who think the Post's twisted cartoons reflect reality. Yet Bloomberg, if not the other unions, finally appears to have personally focused on day care's value and the inequities to which its workers have been exposed. Talks are scheduled for Wednesday and a settlement is expected.

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