New York, NY – Dalvanie K. Powell is the President of the United Probation Officers Association, the union representing nearly 800 Supervising Probation Officers and Probation Officers working in the NYC Department of Probation, and more than 400 retirees. She has served as President of the union since 2016, and is the first woman of color to hold the position. As President, she has aggressively worked to change the direction of the union to get members recognized for their commitment to improving the lives of the youth and adults under Probation’s supervision, and ultimately strengthening our city. LaborPress was privileged to learn more about this talented and compassionate leader.
LP: Where did you grow up and did your early environment affect you in any way?
DP: I grew up in the Edenwald Houses in the Bronx. From a young age, I knew I wanted a career where I could make a difference and serve the public. I initially viewed working at the Department of Probation as a “pit stop” en route to becoming an attorney, but I quickly realized that as a probation officer I could have a tremendous impact on the lives of people in communities like the one I grew up in. Every day probation officers work to give people involved in the criminal justice system a second chance, while working to keep neighborhoods safe. It’s challenging, but rewarding work.
LP: How did your career take shape?
DP: After graduating from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, I began my career in Adult Services as an Investigative Probation Officer and worked a variety of assignments. I became a Supervising Probation Officer in 2008 and was assigned to Bronx Family Court, where I supervised Probation Officers in various units.
I was first elected as a union delegate in 1990, and have since held every position in the union except Treasurer. In 2016 I was appointed President and then, in April 2019, ran unopposed and was elected to a four-year term.
LP: How have you been a pioneer?
DP: I am the first woman of color to lead the United Probation Officers Association.
LP: Have you encountered unwarranted pushback because of your gender and/or race?
DP: New York City probation officers are underpaid and undervalued. Our salaries and total compensation lag behind other law enforcement agencies and probation departments in neighboring counties. Despite the important role we play in keeping our communities safe, we are not considered uniformed law enforcement officers. We are also the only law enforcement department that is majority female and people of color.
Often when I speak up on behalf of our members, it is met with pushback. Women, particularly Black women, are used to doing important work that holds communities together, and not getting the respect we deserve. It is a sad reality that in the 21st century, women and people of color have to justify why we should be paid fairly. We are done being quiet.
LP: Is Diversity, Equity and Inclusion important to you?
DP: Yes. It is vital that our children see a diverse range of people in positions of power. We need more women and people of color leading unions, serving as elected officials, running government agencies and holding c-suite positions in the business world. It’s up to each of us to put another crack in the glass ceiling. One day we will get to the point where there is nothing historic about a Black woman leading a labor union. It should be seen as the norm.
LP: What do you feel are some of your major accomplishments?
During my tenure as president, I have negotiated a new contract with the City with no cuts or givebacks, secured additional health and wellness benefits for Active and Retired members, strengthened the union’s communications with members, improved transparency and built relationships with City and State elected officials and agency heads, and ensured members received personal protective items amid the pandemic. I have also led legal efforts against the City of New York to end pay disparities that disproportionately impacted our membership, which is majority women and people of color.
LP: What are the most stand-out past and future challenges and how can they be addressed?
We will continue to fight to address the immoral pay disparities that Probation Officers face. We have historically been overlooked and undervalued. As I mentioned before, our compensation lags behind other law enforcement agencies, and probation departments in neighboring counties, even though we work with the same population and face the same dangers.
Even within our department there are unconscionable pay disparities based on gender. We commissioned a study that found that white men, on average, are paid $14,500 more than women of color in the department. We have filed a lawsuit against the City of New York to fix the long-standing discrimination that has disproportionately impacted the pay of women and people of color.
These pay disparities aren’t just unfair to our members, they compromise public safety. The City has an issue recruiting and retaining probation officers. That is directly related to compensation. We will not rest until the pay probation officers receive reflects the important work we do to keep our city safe.