CROSSING GUARDS TO NOWHERE: Taxpayer Backlash Against New Rochelle Grows; Idle Crossing Guards Demand Pay for No Work

Written By: Robert Cox

New Rochelle Crossing Guard on her Cell Phone.jpgAll is not well in the land of Rob and Laura Petrie and taxpayers are fed up.

Gannett/Journal News, Don Imus, ABC’s Channel 7 Eyewitness News and Cablevision’s Channel 12 News have all now picked up our story on New Rochelle’s “Crossing Guards to Nowhere” — our exclusive investigative report on crossing guards in New Rochelle, NY who sit around doing nothing in the middle of the school day more than a year after the local school district eliminated half-day Kindergarten.

The City says the workers will continue to be paid until the end of 2011 when the current contract runs out.

Under heavily pro-union New York State law, the workers must be paid even if they no longer have anything to do for half of their work day. Crossing guards, who work for the City not the school district, are paid on average $71 per day and work for an hour in the morning, two hours at lunch time and an hour and 10 minutes at the end of the school day. The City also makes pension contributions of over $21,000 a year. Eliminating the two hours at midday would save the City over $115,000 a year in salary alone.

That might even be acceptable to some taxpayers if the crossing guards were not constantly away from their post or calling in “sick” — 271 times last year alone — leaving the New Rochelle Police Department to pull officers off their regular patrols to fill-in for the absent crossing guards. When they do show up for work they spend their time talking on their cell phones, sitting in lounge chairs waving at passersby or eating lunch in their cars.

In 2004, an 8-year old child was killed across the street from City Hall when the child walked in front of the bus towards his mother. The crossing guard at that post was absent that day and there was no substitute in place. Since then, the New Rochelle Police Department are pulled for crossing guard duty any time a crossing guard post is not manned.

The story has resonated with stressed-out tax payers as the New Rochelle Crossing Guards are fast becoming an emblem of taxpayer frustration over government waste in Westchester County, NY which pays the highest combined taxes in the United States. For more on this read Why Are Our Taxes So #%*! High? in Westchester magazine.

Rosetta Pegues, president of the New Rochelle Crossing Guard union (Civil Service Employees Association/AFSCME Local 860) was asked by the Journal news about being paid for hours when the crossing guards had no one to cross:

“They can’t take if from us,” said Pegues. “We can’t let them.”

In other words, even now that the entire community is up in arms over this issue, the union is insisting that they have a “right” to be paid for doing nothing. Her rationale? City workers must work a minimum number of hours to quality for benefits and pensions — and to quality for New York State unemployment insurance.

Talk of the Sound believes Ms. Pegues, is well on her way to making herself the poster-child for what is wrong with municipal employee unions — she is not advocating for “jobs” for her members, she wants her members to be paid, with benefits and pensions, regardless of whether they are actually working. There is a name for this — “welfare”. Apparently this is what Mr. Pegues really wants for her members but is willing to “compromise” and settle for her members getting a government check for showing up on a street corner, pulling out a lawn chair and waving to their friends as they drive past.

Here is a clip from the Channel 12 News report:

City Manager Charles B. Strome tells the News 12 reporter “there is really no excuse for people to be sitting down they should be at their post and we will take care of that”.

It has been six months since Talk of the Sound first raised this issue to Mr. Strome and New Rochelle Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak. Our first investigative report on this story ran in April. The Journal News interviewed city officials including Strome earlier this month. The Journal News story ran over the weekend, Don Imus mentioned this on his radio show yesterday, Channel 7 Eyewitness reported on this (but has yet to air the report) but despite all of this Channel 12 had no trouble hitting the streets and shooting video of crossing guards talking on their cell phone and sitting in their cars.

When the City Manager says “we will take care of that” we wonder why he could not say “we HAVE taken care of that”. In truth, this is just another case where, caught with their pants down, the City wants the public to believe they had no idea this was going on until a Channel 12 News reporter stuck a camera in someone’s face? Puh-leeze.

According to the reporter, Strome said “the important thing is the city figure out how to avoid this situation in the future”

More baloney.

When was this crossing guard contract signed?

Talk of the Sound has been reporting on New Rochelle Board of Education preparations to switch to Full-Day Kindergarten since 2008. During the 2009 School elections, Dr. Korostoff was praised for all the work and research he did over the past couple of years. The district had to build out classrooms, hire more aides, and work with State officials to make sure the district qualified for reimbursements and grants.

So, while it is true that because they CURRENTLY have a contract the City cannot arbitrarily abrogate that contract it is false to say the no one in government could have done anything about it. A more perintent question is why would the City of New Rochelle sign the current crossing guard contract when the Full-Day K program was widely known. Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak meets every month with Strome where, supposedly, they talked about “shared services” to reduce costs. And this never came up?


This is just one more example of government officials giving taxpayer money away to unions when no one is looking and now, having been caught red-handed, want to pretend they had no choice in the matter.

Apparently in New Rochelle, when it comes to spending taxpayer money, no one is responsible for nuthin’

UPDATE: Marcus Solis, a Reporter for WABC-TV Channel 7 Eyewitness News, interviews Robert Cox of Talk of the Sound at City Hall outside City Hall for a story on the Idle Crossing Guards. The story did not air due to breaking news. The video was recorded outdoors, near a busy street with an iPhone so sound quality is low but passable.

PHOTO CREDIT: the image of the crossing guard with her cell phone (top of page) is a screen grab from the Channel 12 News story embedded above.