The issue of unequal pay for men and women has reached critical mass in the United States, as socioeconomic forces have propelled women into the workplace in unprecedented numbers. On Equal Pay Day, April 8, I led a rally at City Hall to focus on the issue as it affects a group of New York City public employees who are predominantly women.
Also on that day, President Barack Obama issued an executive order to address the issue among federal contractors, noting that, “When women succeed, America succeeds.”
The women and men who work as school safety agents (SSAs) in our city perform an important service, protecting public school children, staff and facilities. They are an essential part of our education system and have been trained and certified as peace officers, who often take dangerous risks to protect the lives of others.
Despite the risks they take and the great job they do, our SSAs, sadly, are not paid fairly for their work. Our agents, 70 percent of whom are women and mostly Black and Latina, make $7,000 less per year than other peace officers, 70 percent of whom are men. Such discrimination is unacceptable in any position, but for one so important to our children and our future, it is outright offensive.
Teamster Local 237 filed the largest discrimination suit in the country to put an end to this terrible inequality. Men and women should receive equal pay for equal work. We will fight as long as it takes to uphold this principle. If it has to be through the courts, so be it, but we are willing to work with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to reach an agreement that honors equality and gives our members fair compensation for their work.
When he was a candidate for mayor, de Blasio said that he would absolutely give equal pay for equal work, especially to those who guard our children. He even called it, “a no brainer.” Now, he has the power to act on his words and take a historic stand for equality in the workplace.
In the coming weeks, Local 237 will start a high-profile publicity campaign asking the mayor to honor his campaign pledge. On the heels of proclaiming his victories during his first 100 days in office, he has the ability to build on those accomplishments and take bold action on an important issue. The alternative is a long legal battle that the city will likely lose.
New York City has been a leader in workers’ rights and women’s rights. Now de Blasio has the ability again to show his leadership on both these issues. By reaching a fair settlement with the school safety agents, the city will also be sending the message that the safety of our school children will not be compromised.