May 27, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Bill de Blasio is facing tough questions this week about why hizzoner is pushing a national agenda urging a $15 an hour minimum wage, while thousands of municipal workers — including vital school crossing guards — presently working for the mayor continue to earn substantially less than that.
“It’s a surprise,” Councilmember Vanessa Gibson [D-16th District], chair of the Public Safety Committee told LaborPress on Tuesday. “I think that our mayor and the administration should recognize that before we go national, we want to make sure that we recognize our public servants who are right here.”
Advocates for the city’s school crossing guards say that a $15 an hour minimum wage is essential to increasing the size of the 2,358-member workforce. There are presently about 108 vacancies citywide, and many school buildings do not have their own dedicated crossing guard to protect students.
“Vision Zero doesn't work if you do not have school crossing guards helping kids to cross the street,” DC37 Executive Director Henry Garrido said at a City Hall rally this week.
The de Blasio administration has made safer streets a priority through its Vision Zero action plan, however, New York City school kids continue to be at risk on the streets.
According to Borough President Gale Brewer, almost half of Manhattan’s public schools sit on blocks where 10 or more crashes have occurred between the months of October and March.
The city bumped up school crossing guard wages to $11.50 beginning in April, but many vacancies still remain.
Councilmember Helen Rosenthal [D-6th District], has spent the better part of this school year fruitlessly attempting to get a crossing guard at the corner of 77th Street and Columbus Avenue, site of a recent accident involving a young student attempting to cross the street.
“That’s horse-hockey,” the Upper West Side lawmaker said. “We don’t pay these people well enough. It’s great that we got up to $11.50 an hour, but we have to be at $15 an hour and we have to be at full-time benefits.
In addition to unlivable low-wages, school crossing guards are limited to a 25 hour work week and face summertime furloughs when their health benefits evaporate with the heat.
“New York City crossing guards are saving kids’ lives every day,” said Transportation Alternatives chief Paul Steely White. “And that’s why they deserve fair, equitable compensation.”
Each traffic fatality involving pedestrians reportedly costs the city $3 million in law suits, emergency services and other expenses.
When pressed about municipal employees earning less than the $15 an hour minimum wage that fast food workers appear to be close to winning, the administration touted recent efforts to bring all municipal employees up to a base of “at least the living wage.”
“We made great strides by establishing a living wage of $11.50 an hour starting in April,” Garrido added. “That is progress, but it is not perfection. We will not stop until the fight for $15 for school crossing guards ends. If the mayor wants to continue to publicize and push for private sector workers to do that — why not start at home with his own city workers?”
Many city council members are already on record urging the mayor to do just that.
“School crossing guards are heroes,” Councilman Ben Kallos [D-5th District] said. “They protect our children and we need to start treating them that way. We need to make sure we pay them and treat them better than McDonald’s treats their employees.”
Despite increasing calls to the contrary, the latest executive budget proposal reportedly does not include any money to increase the number of school crossing guards.
“This is an issue of pay equity — $11.50 an hour is a nice start, but it does not raise or sustain a family in the City of New York,” said Councilmember I. Daneek Miller, chair of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor. “We are not valuing our school crossing guards.”