The needler in the haystack.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Did Robinson-Briggs break promises to crossing guards?

These days, when you see a 'discussion' item put forward on the Plainfield City Council agenda, you can many times assume it is going to be used by a Council majority to try and embarrass the Mapp administration.

The thought came to me when I saw that the Council intends to discuss crossing guards (again) at this Monday's agenda session.

The subject has come up in recent months because of an increase to be made in their pay. At the September agenda session, remarks were made that one person in particular (unnamed) "really" deserves the raise, and also there was a suggestion the that raise should be 20%.

I took the time to speak with some crossing guards. Here is what I learned.

There are about 50 crossing guards. They are under the supervision of the Police Division. They work two hours a day, every day that school is in session (180 days a year by law). They do not work weekends, public holidays or summers. Each year there is an orientation session before school begins to refresh old-timers and orient new crossing guards. It is led by a police officer.

Their pay is in a band that runs -- I have been told -- between about $13.00 to $15.00 an hour. Payroll deductions -- including unemployment, for which they are ineligible, are taken out of their gross pay, which tops out at $5,400/year. No one knows why there are differences in pay. They are not organized or represented by any of the city's bargaining units. Many are older and for some this is their only source of outside income.

One crossing guard told me they had not had an increase in pay in six years.

The pay increase that Council passed in amending the wages and salaries ordinance in this matter recently amounted to 2% -- or, as one crossing guard told me, less than 50¢ per day. This may not seem like much, but the percentage is in line with increments seen by the city's bargaining units -- though they see them annually.

Under the new rate, the top pay (at $15.30/hour) would come out to $5,508 per year, an increase of $108.00.

If the suggestion to raise crossing guard pay by twenty percent were taken up by the Council, the result would be a top pay of $18.00/hour for an annual total of $6,480.

None of these numbers would break the bank.

One of the persistent complaints of the crossing guards is that their pay is not commensurate with surrounding communities. I am told they were promised by the Robinson-Briggs administration that there would be a survey of the payscales of other nearby towns and Plainfield would be adjusted upward accordingly.

To date, they say, they have not heard what ever happened to the "study" and the supposition is that it was never made. That would not be a stretch given the dysfunctionality of the Robinson-Briggs administration, especially in its final years.

The crossing guards have not been unreasonable in pursuing a raise. They provide a valuable service in safeguarding our children as they go to and from the public schools and cross busy and dangerous streets.

So, what is the problem?

It seems to me that the biggest issue is that the crossing guards have no "champion" -- someone whose job is to see that their situation is reviewed by competent authorities on a regular basis.

What can be done?

Here are a few suggestions --

  1. Make a supervisory level employee responsible for annually reviewing the salary and staffing situation and making recommendations for the next year's budget;

  2. Provide a formal mechanism within the administration for the crossing guards to bring up pay and/or other issues as necessary;

  3. Consider making crossing guards "independent contractors" (if possible), or what is commonly called "1099 employees" -- after the IRS form which is filed showing their gross pay. This eliminates any payroll deductions and makes the independent contractor individually liable for any IRS or other deduction responsibilities.
So, rather than using the crossing guards for dramatic purpose to excoriate the Mapp administration, the Council and the administration could work together to improve conditions for the crossing guards and make for more harmonious city government.

And what would be wrong with that?

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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