Three of the city’s crossing guards are getting much more than just their $8.65 hourly salary — the city is also paying for half of their health insurance, Director of Administration John Paolino said.
Schenectady is spending $12,605 on the perk this year, Paolino said.
Thirty other guards were hired after the city withdrew the benefit, but those who were hired under the original contract get to keep their insurance coverage forever.
“It’s because of the provisions of the terms and conditions of the contract at the time,” Paolino said.
The guards pay 50 percent of their insurance during the school year, and 102 percent of the cost in July and August.
The perk came to light after Councilwoman Denise Brucker proposed increasing the guards’ salary because some of them skip work or sit in their cars in bad weather. Some guards had become so unreliable that police — who hire the guards — sent out a letter recently threatening to fire anyone who can’t be counted on to show up on time and stop traffic while children walk across the street.
It’s not clear whether the guards with health insurance are more reliable than the others, but Brucker said the obvious way to get no-shows to work would be to offer better compensation.
“It’s time definitely to increase the salary of those crossing guards,” she said. “It’s reprehensible we’re only paying them $8.50 or whatever — no wonder they’re not showing up.”
City Council members were surprised to learn that some of the part-time crossing guards have health insurance, but Councilman Gary McCarthy said that pay raises are still needed.
“That’s a significant benefit, but for some of the other ones, the compensation may be low,” he said. “My thoughts are adjusting the hourly or daily rate.”
Finance committee chair Councilman Mark Blanchfield said the council also needs to analyze the reliability issue thoroughly before discussing any solutions.
“If they’re not showing up — that’s the issue, not showing up — we have to figure out why,” he said. “There many be an explanation that has nothing to do with wages or benefits.”
He said a handful of guards could coincidentally be sick on bad-weather days, when police say they get a poor turnout.
“There’s not that many of them. There could be illness,” Blanchfield said. “Let’s look at the reasons before we march into solutions.”
Vince Riggi, whose wife is a crossing guard, said guards are skipping work because the pay is too low. He suggested paying the guards at least $12 an hour.
“I don’t think the pay is enough,” he told the council during a recent privilege of the floor session.
The guards are not the only part-time city workers to get health insurance. The Schenectady City Council members used to get free health insurance, but they agreed this year to start paying 20 percent of their insurance. They can choose to opt out of the city’s health care system instead.
Only the council members who faced election and got a raise this year must make the payments. They are: Brucker, King, Joseph Allen and Thomas Della Sala. Mayor Brian U. Stratton also agreed to the new system.