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A number of the city’s Strongest have filed a class-action suit claiming that the Department of Sanitation and the city have discriminated against them based on their gender and their race by underpaying them for work substantially the same as that being done by others being compensated much better.
The federal suit, filed July 25 in U.S. District Court by 13 current or former DSNY enforcement agents and associate sanitation enforcement agents seeks department-wide corrections of the alleged inequalities, compensatory and punitive damages and back pay with interest.
The suit claims that the duties of the DSNY’s enforcement agents and associate enforcement agents are essentially the same as those of DSNY police officers, but that sanitation police make substantially more than enforcement agents and receive better benefits while they are employed and also following their retirement from the agency. According to the complaint, DSNY police make $77,318 after five-and-a-half years with the department, while “many” enforcement agents pull in less than $45,000 after 15 or even 30 years.
All of the named plaintiffs are either Black, Hispanic or Native American with between 12 and 33 year with the department, according to the suit. Six are women. None makes or made more than $49,545, with the lowest salary being $43,000.
The enforcement agents and their union, the Law Enforcement Employees Benevolent Association, which represents both the enforcement agents as well as DSNY police, have for years advocated for enforcement agents to be recognized as part of the department’s uniformed services.
The current suit says that like their police officer colleagues at the department, enforcement agents issue parking, criminal and Environmental Control Board summonses, and investigate complaints of illegal dumping and other alleged infractions, enforce regulations and, the action claims, even make arrests.
In fact, the suit says, enforcement agents have trained Sanitation police on their tasks.
“Enforcement Agents perform work requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility
under similar working conditions as Sanitation Police,” it says, adding that they “have the same responsibilities and carry out the same job functions as the Sanitation Police.”
But, the complaint continues, enforcement agents “are overwhelmingly minorities, while sanitation police officers are “predominately white and male.” It also alleges that, percentage-wise, there are twice as many Black enforcement agents as there are Black sanitation police officers and twice as many female enforcement agents as female DSNY police officers.
There are some notable differences between the titles, however.
DSNY police officers, like their colleagues in law enforcement, are peace officers who are licensed to carry firearms, and do so. Also unlike enforcement agents, they also must have commercial driver’s licenses, which allows them to drive plows during snow emergencies, as well as other heavy equipment when needed.
Sanitation police are also empowered to carry out vehicle stops, impound cars and trucks, detain people and issue summonses for criminal violations.
In effect, the department likens the differences between its police officers and enforcement agents as being akin to those between transit police and transit booth personnel.
The department, though, says it has made considerable efforts to close the pay gap, for instance by trying to promote enforcement agents from Level 1 to Level 2 and then onto the supervisory title, associate sanitation enforcement agent whenever possible.
But DSNY says that even that effort has been frustrated by the lack of a contract, which the department says is because enforcement agents and associate enforcement agents have declined to accept agreements that follow the city’s salary adjustment pattern.
A DSNY spokesperson said “the city’s Law Department is reviewing the case and will respond in litigation.”
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