Jersey City school crossing guards will vote on a tentative agreement tomorrow settling their long-standing contract dispute with the city. If ratified, the guards will get an immediate raise of $1.00 per hour, bringing them to an hourly wage of $18.00 this year.
The guards will also receive retroactive raises going back to 2017.
Two weeks ago, their union, Jersey City Public Employees Local 245, took to the plaza in front of City Hall to call for a new contract. The crossing guards have been working without one since 2017.
“All we need is a buck to tie up our contract,” read a sign.
“You can’t live in Jersey City on $17.00 an hour,” said Union President Santo Della Monica.
“A lot of these folks couldn’t collect unemployment [during the Covid-19 school closures],” he continued. “They had to get by with help from relatives and food pantries.”
According to the Memorandum of Agreement, the new contract will be retroactive to January 1, 2017 and run until the end of 2026.
The city will provide life insurance of $10 thousand per family and an optical plan of $225 per year.
The contract will retroactively set wages at $15.50 per hour beginning in 2017 with an increase each year, ending at $22 per hour in 2026.
The agreement also provides that crossing guards will get the hourly minimum established by any future raise given to city employees by way of an executive order. On June 16, Mayor Steven Fulop increased the minimum pay for full-time city workers to $20 per hour.
While he welcomes the raise, Della Monica feels it didn’t go far enough. “It’s not fair for guys like me who’ve been there for 25 years…I make $25 an hour.”
Crossing guards currently work for 20 hours each week and are not covered by the mayor’s order. Under the new contract, beginning in 2024, the guards will work 25 hours per week and qualify for pay raises granted to full-time workers.
The city has agreed to study the “feasibility” of offering health care benefits to the guards beginning in 2024.
According to Della Monica, the crossing guards, mostly senior citizens, have dealt with harsh treatment from supervisors and brutal weather over the years.
Crossing guards almost had a contract in 2019 that would have raised their pay rate to $19.00 per hour, but negotiations stalled with the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
The city let go 100 of its 250 unionized crossing guards during the pandemic, according to Della Monica. Some of the city’s public schools used to have six guards and are now down to two, he said. Police, paid at a higher rate, are filling in the gaps.
The protest elicited public sympathy. Said Jersey City resident Karin Vanoppen who witnessed it:
“Crossing guards work in all weather, heavy traffic, and face drivers who park and make U-turns on the crosswalks. I see the guard in front of P.S. 3 get cursed at daily for pointing out dangerous driving. She calls the students ‘my kids.’ They deserve that extra money and more.”
Meantime, Local 245 has filed a grievance seeking double-time pay for its members who worked through the Covid-19 state of emergency. Last year, an appellate court ordered the city to pay the union double-time pay for a 2018 state of emergency. Della Monica is confident that the facts in this case are no different and that the city owes workers approximately $30 million.
The Jersey City Times emailed Mayor Fulop’s press secretary for comment on the contract dispute, but she did not respond.
Andrea Crowley-Hughes assisted in the preparation of this article.