New York City's crossing guards, the majority of them women, work part-time split shifts for low wages, and lose their health care benefits in the summer months. At a rally on the steps of City Hall Wednesday afternoon, councilmembers, union leaders, and advocates for safe streets demanded a living wage for those who act as the first line of defense between restless children and speeding vehicles.

Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer outlined the reforms the group was protesting for: “Living wages for crossing guards—15 dollars an hour. Health benefits that are annual, and do not cut off during the summer. And there should be a raise in the cap of hours, so that the crossing guards are allowed to work.”  

Recently, the city's 2,300 crossing guards saw a raise in their starting wage from $9.88/hour to $11.50/hour, an increase that Shaun Francois, the president of the union that represents the guards, called a "beginning."

"Eleven fifty is still not enough to meet the living needs of our members," Francois said. "They deserve a lot more.”

The low wages and capped hours have led to a crossing guard shortage; despite huge demand for more guards from parents and teachers, there are roughly 200 positions that are currently unfilled.

"It's the pay, for a lot of them it's a second job," says Jaquelin Febrillet, the political director for the union, Local 372. "They're capped at 25 hours a week, 2.5 in the morning, 2.5 in the afternoon. A lot of women and older women are the ones who have these flexible hours. But if you make the job more desirable, I'm pretty sure you're going to get a bigger pick of people applying for the position."

Months after 6-year-old Amar Diarrassouba was killed by a tractor trailer driver as he walked to school in Harlem, the NYPD failed to maintain a crossing guard at the intersection where he was struck. The explanation was that there were no crossing guards available to pick up the shift. The crossing guard who was supposed to be at her post the day Diarrassouba was killed stated that an unspecified emergency prevented her from working.

“We have the highest rate of pedestrian death of the whole city- 2.1 fatalities for every 100,000 residents. That’s not a statistic we want to have,” Brewer said.

Bronx Councilmember and Public Safety Chair Vanessa Gibson added that “with seventeen hundred schools in this city, with multiple co-locations, Vision Zero implementation, expansion on universal pre-k, we need more than the 2,300 school crossing guards that we have right now.”

Asked what the biggest obstacle would be to seeing these reforms take place, Gibson pointed to funding.

“This is a numbers thing. It’s numbers! The living wage component, the annual healthcare, all of that has a cost. I don’t want to put politics over people, but I do want to be realistic about what we face in our city. At the end of the day we as a council have to say what’s important, and the dollar figures. That’s what it comes down to.”