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Working for the City

‘The Drivers Have No Respect’

As the City moves to eliminate nearly 500 crossing guard positions, we spoke to one about how the job's gotten tougher after COVID.

A crossing guard helps a woman and a child cross the street.

The first day of school, 2018 (Michael Appleton/Mayor’s Office)

The streets surrounding New York City schools are more dangerous than others. According to a comprehensive Streetsblog analysis, there are an average of 50 crashes around schools every single day that schools are open.

This is the working environment of the City's 2,500 crossing guards, who staff part-time split shifts—a few hours in the morning, a few hours in the afternoon—for a little bit more than minimum wage. They're paid some of the lowest wages in City government. Crossing guards, who technically work for the NYPD, are overwhelmingly women of color; two have been killed on the job since 2014, and at least ten have been seriously injured in traffic crashes over that same time period. 

Earlier this month, the Adams administration announced that they were cutting around 480 crossing guard positions, 18 percent of the whole force. A spokesperson for the administration told Politico that the cuts were accomplished by eliminating vacant positions, and that no guards would be laid off, but the guards' union protested the move. "This is ridiculous," Shaun Francois, president of Local 372 NYC Board of Education Employees said at a rally outside City Hall. "We're talking about the children that need to go to school each and every day safely."

A crossing guard we met on the Lower East Side, who asked to be called "A." so as not to anger her boss, said she didn't know a whole lot about what the cuts would mean, though she noted that guards have been moved around a lot recently—her precinct has dozens, while a neighboring one has fewer than 10. "It's really weird," A. told us.

We stopped and chatted about the job with A., who momentarily interrupted the conversation to greet people she knew on the street.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How long have you been a crossing guard?

Almost 11 years. 

At this same corner?

I've had only two corners. I've been at this one for almost seven years.

We have two shifts: 7 to 9:30, and then 1:30 to 3. When the kids are coming to school and when they're coming home.

Is the traffic bad at this corner?

Yes, very bad. Especially after COVID, people are crazy. 

What do you mean by that?

They don't respect the light. We are school crossing guards, yes, but we are here for everybody—for the senior people especially. But sometimes the drivers have no respect. We have a lot of kids that need to cross here and the drivers, they don't want to wait for people in general, for people to cross, and it's a little bit hard. And sometimes the light will change, and they'll speed through the red light. It's dangerous for the kids, and dangerous for us too.

The drivers will also scream at us, and they'll do this [raises middle finger], and, yeah, it's hard. They'll say "What! Please! No! I need to go, I'm late!" I'm sorry, that's not my problem, I'm trying to do my job, which is to keep people safe. 

People think that we're only standing on the corner—no, we have to be in the middle of the street, in traffic, to make sure people get across. Because the kids will be distracted, sometimes they're playing in the middle of the street because they don't care, they're kids. It's a little bit stressful, because you think something can happen. But thank God I've never had an accident here.

Have you ever been hit?

No, no, thank God. I'm always very careful.

Did you grow up on the Lower East Side?

Not really, because my country is the Dominican Republic. I moved here about 18 years ago. But I live here. 

I've been here long enough to feel the difference from before COVID. This is a different city. New York City is another city after COVID. 

What makes you say that? Are people anxious? On edge?

People are very angry. 

[Turns to an elderly man crossing the street: "Hi my friend!"]

Always when I'm here, I try to say hi to people. I say "good morning" to everybody, every day. Now, sometimes they come up to me in my face and say, "Why'd you say good morning to me? This is not your business!" Oh, I'm sorry my friend! I'm sorry, I won't say that again.

But I try to be kind to everybody. I have to be. In this industry I have to be able to talk to every kind of person, you know? Now, after COVID, that's a little bit harder than before.

What's the best part of the job?

For me, because I love kids, the little ones. They're so friendly and loving with me. They'll always say "Ahhh good morning!" The kids are so clear and honest. They are the best part of this job.

We also have lots of people in the neighborhood who will come up and say, "Anything you need, let us know." When it gets too hot they'll bring water, when it's too cold they'll bring coffee or hot chocolate—that's really good. The neighbors in general are good people. But as I said, after COVID, a lot of people moved from here, and now we have a lot of new people, and now we have to figure it out. 

In general, I like this job. I have relationships with a lot of people.

You've been doing this for 11 years, can I ask what your hourly wage is? It's not a whole lot, correct?

[Laughs] No, because it's part-time, and we only do it 4 hours a day, 20 hours a week. When I started it was $12 something an hour, and then we got a raise to $15, and now we're in the process to get a raise to $18.

Do you think that's enough?

No. No. We are in the middle of the city, we're fighting with the drivers, we're here in the rain, snow, hot weather, we are here. For $18? No. But we need to work.

I got this job because it was easy for me, having the same schedule as my kids. When the school is closed I don't need a babysitter. I bring my kids to school, and when I go home, I can take my kids with me.

But on the weekends, and when the school is closed, I'm a babysitter. Because this job is not enough. And this is a really expensive city, especially when you have kids. I had to figure it out. 

How old are your kids now?

My little one's graduating [high school] now, my son graduated last year.

It's hard to look for another job with the same kind of benefits. This is a part-time job but we have full benefits. For me, this is important.

I started some English classes because I need to improve my English to get something else, to get another job. You have to think about the future.

Anything else you want to add about being a crossing guard?

Some people think this job is easy, but listen: This job is not easy.

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