Mayoral candidate Kathryn Garcia says she supports pay equity, but during her six years as city Sanitation commissioner she presided over a two-tier system that funneled women and minorities into lower-wage enforcement jobs while white, male counterparts did similar work for higher pay and better benefits, a federal discrimination complaint charges.
“She has a good campaign going, but in the department when she was working with Sanitation, she didn’t help with women or help with equal work or equal pay,” Dameka Dowdy told The Post.
“She was in a position to bring it to light, and she did nothing.”
Dowdy, a 48-year-old Bronx resident, is one of 13 Sanitation enforcement agents who’ve filed a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claim against the agency claiming unequal pay.
The complaint was filed in February, months before Garcia scored the endorsement of The New York Times and started rising in the polls. She’s now in the top tier of candidates for the June 22 primary alongside Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
The agents say in the EEOC claim that another agency division, the Sanitation police, also issue summonses, investigate complaints and enforce regulations — but they get paid twice the salaries, have unlimited sick time, prescription drug coverage and more generous pensions.
Unlike the enforcement agents, the police carry guns and hold commercial drivers licenses.
“We’re different groups inside the department but when we’re doing the same job, it’s crazy that the disparity is there,” Dowdy said.
Sanitation police are political appointees drawn from the pool of existing Sanitation workers, making them largely white and male. Enforcement agents are civil servants hired from outside the department. They are predominantly women and minorities.
The department introduced enforcement agents in 1981 to open up a new front in its “war on grime.” The agents were tasked with fining merchants and homeowners for filthy sidewalks.
Sanitation police were supposed to get freed up to focus on more serious violations like illegal dumping probes, but they still handle many of the same tasks performed by their enforcement counterparts from providing security at department facilities to ticketing dog walkers for failing to clean up animal droppings.
The police are paid an average of $77,000 after five years on the job, according to a copy of the EEOC complaint. Dowdy, a black woman, makes just $50,000 after 15 years. Black and Hispanic male colleagues with over 30 years on the job earn at most $57,000.
As a mayoral candidate Garcia has called for fairer treatment of female workers.
“Women need #EqualPay now. Full stop,” she tweeted on March 24 in observance of Equal Pay Day.
A month later Garcia called out another agency for discriminatory practices.
“NYC’s foster care system disproportionately impacts Black and low-income families and deepens the cycle of poverty. When a system produces racist and economically discriminatory outcomes, that system must be redesigned to serve all with justice and dignity,” she tweeted in April.
“I just find it quite funny that she’s running for mayor and even saying that because when enforcement came to her for some assistance, she just brushed it off like we were nothing,” said Carmelita Gordon-Fleetwood, another black agent involved in the EEOC case.
When the agents held a rally in 2017 to push for equal status with Sanitation police, a spokesman for then-Commissioner Garcia said that wasn’t possible because they take a separate civil-service exam, according to an article in the Chief Leader.
“I think that’s very unfair, and I feel like at least some of us should have been given an opportunity if you’re not going to make the pay at least close, give us an opportunity to join that realm,” said Sandra Castro, who is also a black enforcement agent.
Philip Seelig, an attorney for the agents who plans to file a class action lawsuit against the Sanitation Department this summer after the EEOC reviews the claim, said Garcia had the power to push for change.
Seelig, onetime president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, worked with former Correction Department Commissioner Benjamin Ward under Mayor Ed Koch in the early 1980s to push for pension reform for his largely minority workforce.
“Commissioners can advocate and they can speak up,” Seelig told The Post.
“She either turned a blind eye or wasn’t watching the store and that’s her obligation as commissioner,” Seelig said.
A spokesman for the Sanitation Department said the two jobs are very different.
“Sanitation Police are peace officers who carry firearms, and must hold commercial driver’s licenses so that in a snow emergency, they can be pulled from their normal duties and assigned to drive a plow.
“None of these things are the case for Sanitation Enforcement Agents, who play a vital role by observing conditions and issuing citations but cannot compel changes in behavior and are not authorized to operate heavy machinery,” said spokesman Joshua Goodman.
Goodman said Garcia worked to close the pay gap by advocating for enforcement agents to get extra points on the Sanitation worker civil service exam so they could be eligible to become department police and earn a higher salary.
“As a woman leading a majority-male workforce, Kathryn Garcia worked hard to change the system to recruit, promote and retain a diverse team that reflects New York City,” her campaign spokeswoman, Annika Reno, told The Post.
“The numbers speak for themselves; under Commissioner Garcia the number of chiefs of color nearly doubled to become a quarter of the department’s leadership. She also overhauled the department’s recruitment process to do more outreach to underrepresented communities and as a result more Black applicants took the last Sanitation exam than any other ethnic group,” Reno said.
“As mayor, Kathryn will direct the City’s Office of Labor Relations to enter into negotiations with the SEA union to work toward equal pay,” Reno said.