In the winter of 1983, Lourdes Acevedo stood on the streets of icy New York City, a traffic enforcement vest stretching over her very pregnant belly. Though her employer, New York City Police Department, knew that she was well into her pregnancy, she was offered only an outside job. After enduring months of dangerous conditions, Acevedo eventually quit, intent on returning to work after she gave birth.
By 1984, she was working for the Commissioner of the New York City Police department, and immediately shared her experience with him of working while pregnant. This led to a change in policy protecting pregnant women from work that could endanger their health. “You don’t think little things will affect change,” says Acevedo, “but I can now report that according to New York City law, pregnant women now must be brought inside to work.”
But Acevedo’s struggles were not over. Acevedo soon learned that a fellow church member, a white man, paid significantly more in congregation dues than she did. Acevedo knew that she and the man held the same position at work and wondered about the reason for this discrepancy. She discovered that despite their identical positions, the man’s salary was more than double the one that she earned – for the very same job.
Acevedo, a diligent employee and responsible activist, took immediate action by filing a grievance with her employer. However, after she was met with silence, she realized that real change would not come from waiting. She brought the issue to labor relations, who brought it to attorneys, who brought it to the union, who brought it to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Despite these efforts, nothing changed for Acevedo. Though her pay remained stagnant, the cost of living in NYC did not and so Acevedo continued to work tirelessly, at a salary level less than half her male counterparts earned, in order to support herself and three children. She borrowed pensions, transferred funds, and eventually, due to the cost of student loans, even supported son’s decision to drop out of college and enroll in military service. “We have to pay rent, gas, phone, college, and at the end, there’s no extra money to even buy Chinese food on a Friday night for my family. How do I win?”
On April 4th, Equal Pay Day, Acevedo and more than 1,500 other women of color who hold administrative managerial positions, will await an answer from Mayor Bill de Blasio. They stand with us at City Hall, fighting to achieve equity for themselves and all of women in NYC.
YWCA Brooklyn’s graduate social work interns, Madeline Lucas, Rebecca Telfort, and Zazu Tauber, conducted interviews and wrote the stories of these dynamic and courageous workers as part of our effort to share real life experiences of women in the workplace during Equal Pay Week.