Never Abandoning the Fight: School Safety Agents Battle For Equity — and Win!

By Joe Maniscalco, LaborPress

Without the steadfast courage of Corinthians Andrews (pictured above, bottom center), Bernice Christopher (pictured above, right) and Patricia Williams (pictured above, left) — lead plaintiffs in the landmark Equal Pay Act — the gender gap that once marked the lives of 5,000 mostly female school safety agents might never have been shut this past year. “I’m ecstatic,” 54-year-old Corinthians Andrews told LaborPress this week. “My prayers have been answered. I’m so glad that we have been able to win all the way around.”

After years of legal wrangling dating back to 2010, special agents in the NYPD’s School Safety Division, who had been making $7,000 less than their mostly male counterparts in the Health and Hospital Corporation and other city agencies, will now have their pay equalized over a three-year period.

For Andrews, who started on the job 27 years ago making as little as $18,000 a year and now retired, the settlement reached with the city means that the next generation of school safety agents entering the profession won’t have to struggle in the same way she did.

“I’m glad they have it,” Andrews said. “Now they can move forward in life. This gives hope to my niece or nephew, or whoever else who’s coming up that they’ll have something worth working for.”

The striking pay disparity between the city’s safety agents existed for years, with the ensuing fight becoming the largest equal pay case in U.S. history.

Bernice Christopher joined the School Safety Division in February, 1981, and was promoted to Level 3 two years later when she was assigned to the Brooklyn South Command. Until just recently, Christopher was still coordinating Borough Office activities.

Patricia Williams’ career in the School Safety Division goes back to September, 1984. Like Christopher, she also worked in Brooklyn South Command. Later, Williams would spend a decade tackling some of the system’s most challenging schools. Before retiring earlier this year, Williams became involved in payroll management and member grievances.

The battle may have been long and arduous, but Williams says that the stakes were simply too high to ever abandon the fight until it was won.

“It was worth the fight,” Williams says. “We have too many families on the job that are homeless and or living in shelters. Knowing this makes me feel blessed to be able to help financially.”

Despite the challenging environments in which they worked, however, female School Safety Agents like Andrews, Christopher and Williams languished economically due, in part, to outdated notions about so-called “woman’s work.”

“It’s almost as if there were two separate hiring methods,” Local IBT Grievance Coordinator Todd Rubinstein says.
Special safety officers in various other city agencies, including the Health and Hospital Corporation, are 70 percent male, while women make up 70 percent of the Division of School Safety.

Both occupations can be dangerous. The School Safety Division became part of the NYPD in 1999, and granted Civil Service status in 2005.

“School Safety Agents have a tough job,” says Greg Floyd, president, Local 237. “They protect a most precious commodity — our children. They help to create a safe and nurturing school environment where youngsters can learn and develop. But, SSAs have children of their own too, and need to put food on the table for their own families.

That is why our union, which represents these agents, supported the class action pay discrimination lawsuit.” Not only have female school safety agents been doing the same job as their male counterparts all along, Andrews says that over the years, they have continually taken on even more responsibilities.

“We’re still doing the same job,” Andrews says. “In fact, we have more on us than we had years ago — more details and more equipment. The fight has been hard, but I knew eventually somewhere down the line before I retired, something like this would occur.”

Reprinted with permission from LaborPress.