School safety agent Kangela Moore, a hardworking mother of two, makes less than $40,000 a year after 22 years on the job, even though men who do similar work for the city earn about $7,000 more. Every month, she struggles to put food on the table and pay her bills. It doesn’t have to be this way. If Mayor Bill de Blasio keeps his promise, Moore and her 5,000 colleagues will finally get their fair wages.

Seventy percent of school safety agents like Moore are women and, on average, they earn $7,000 less than their predominately male counterparts doing similar security work in city hospitals, colleges and homeless shelters. These public employees are all certified peace officers, but school safety agents earn roughly $35,000, while the other officers take home $42,000 a year on average.

In 2010, Teamsters Local 237 filed a gender-based wage discrimination lawsuit—the largest pay discrimination suit in the United States—on behalf of Moore and the 5,000 school safety agents represented by the union. Lower pay for the same work is discriminatory, and we need to stop this. The school safety agents are mostly African-American and Latina, most of them are mothers and many are the family breadwinners.

A year ago, when asked if he would correct the pay discrepancy, then mayoral candidate de Blasio replied, “People who do security work, who protect us, who protect our children, deserve not only respect, they deserve equal pay. It’s a no-brainer. Absolutely.”

Indeed, school safety agents like Moore not only deserve equal pay, they are entitled to it. For this reason, we held a rally at City Hall on April 8 and again on May 9 to keep this issue in the spotlight and call on de Blasio to right this wrong.

Attending the May 9 rally with us was feminist icon Lilly Ledbetter. We were so proud to have her join us in this fight for equal pay. Ledbetter knows a thing or two about inequality. For 19 years, she worked for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, earning less than her male counterparts. She took her claim all the way to the Supreme Court, where it was thrown out on a technicality.

Not one to back down from a fight, Ledbetter continued to lobby Congress until they closed the loophole that threw out her case. Ledbetter’s case inspired the first bill signed by President Barack Obama, which bears her name, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

Also supporting our May 9 rally were Public Advocate Letitia James; City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; Sonia Ossorio, president of the New York City chapter of the National Organization for Women; and Mary Lou Urban, co-president of the League of Women Voters. With their leadership on this issue, we are confident de Blasio will heed the call.

The mayor offered a measured response to our rally, saying “When we have a settlement, we’ll announce it as we do with all settlements. But I think I’ve said very clearly: We’re going to settle that case. We don’t accept pay inequity.” 

We are happy the mayor hears our plea, but as we have seen, these legal cases can go on for years before they are resolved.

We need action now. Moore and her family can’t wait another 22 years. Every day that passes without equal pay causes real hardship for school safety agents and their families. It means less food on the table, dreams of college deferred and a lower pension after retirement.

Immediate pay equity for school safety agents is a legal and moral obligation. Justice delayed is justice denied.