Marie Guzzella is one of the few part-time crossing guards who has a crossing in the district where she lives. She says that she would, and has, placed herself in front of an oncoming vehicle in order to protect a child from being struck.

MINEOLA — Nassau County administrators are failing to fill crossing guard positions, a move that is creating a public safety crisis and leaving county residents in potential danger.

Instead, county management has been replacing civilian school crossing guards with Nassau County police officers.

At press time, the local had filed a subcontracting grievance against the county on behalf of the crossing guards.

CSEA Nassau County Local President Jerry Laricchiuta said the situation stems from the county’s refusal to make proper staffing practices a priority.

“The county let the full-time staff go from 350 to 142 workers and replaced them with some part-timers,” Laricchiuta said.

The combination of the low pay and lack of flexibility was making it difficult for the county to find reliable workers to fill the crossing guard positions.

“That’s the reason why Nassau County, many years ago, decided to create the full-time crossing guard position,” Laricchiuta said. “They knew they would attract more consistent staff by hiring full-time workers who they could provide with good benefits.”

Somewhere along the line, the county’s priorities changed.

With the recent loss of 10 crossing guards, Nassau County now has 70 police officers who are working on crossing guard duties.

In an effort to combat the issue, CSEA joined the Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents the police officers, in a press conference to express their collective concern about the dangers of removing officers from their normal duties in lieu of hiring full-time crossing guards.

A recent incident shows why understaffing the crossing guards and police are putting the community at risk.

“About a mile away from where an officer was assuming school crossing guard duties, a man was having a serious medical emergency,” said Laricchiuta. “That man wound up dying from a heart attack, which we firmly believe happened because the closest officer wasn’t permitted to respond to the call.”

No one is permitted to leave a school crossing while they are working their shift. Hence, county police were forced to pull an officer from another precinct and rushed him to the community where the medical emergency was happening to respond to the call, which added 12 minutes to the response time.

As if that were not enough, the officer who was one mile away from the distressed Nassau resident had an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) machine with him.

Had the officer been permitted to respond to the call, he may have been able to save the man’s life.
The benefit of having a full-time employee working the school crossings is that the member “owns the crossing.” Part-time employees are not assigned to one location, but are placed at crossings according to need.

“Full-timers know the names of every one of the kids who use the crossing they are assigned to,” said Laricchiuta. “They become family to the kids. Part-timers don’t get that opportunity.”

Our Nassau County Local is trying to get county officials to establish a minimum staffing number, as well as increase the part-timers pay to attract more consistent employees.

“The county thinks they’re being smart by letting the full-timers phase themselves out,” Laricchiuta said. “Nassau County will pay $60 million in overtime to the police for the use of their officers, but they’re opposed to paying $500,000 in crossing guard pay. It makes no sense.”

Despite the pushback from the county, Laricchiuta said our local continue to fight for the crossing guards.
“The crossing guards that are already working have good jobs,” said Laricchiuta. “That’s not because of this administration; it’s because of our union. We are telling [the crossing guards that]‘we refuse to give up on [improving]your benefits and pay; we’ll keep fighting for you.’”

— Wendi Bowie

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Wendi Bowie

Wendi Bowie is an award-winning journalist who has focused the majority of her career on covering Long Island news. Her efforts have earned her the Press Club of Long Island Media Award for Public Affairs and the Long Island Coalition for Fair Broadcasting Folio Award. Wendi was drawn to her current position as Communications Specialist for CSEA’s Long Island Region because it speaks to her strong desire to champion the rights of the common man and woman.

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