Shelter security officers demand better wages, healthcare and work conditions after colleagues death

Stephon Johnson | 7/9/2020, midnight

The website for The MAve Hotel presents itself as your run of the mill “luxury” hotel in the Flatiron district. It claims to provide an “urban retreat with a fresh, uniquely New York sensibility.” The “sensibilities” are unique indeed. The city has used the hotel as a makeshift homeless shelter with 24-hour security officers guarding the building.

Security officers in this shelter, and others, are done putting up with the subpar conditions in these hotels.

Dozens of officers, some of whom are members of 32BJ, took to the streets last week outside The MAve Hotel at 62 Madison Ave. Currently used as a homeless shelter, the security officers were protesting the conditions that led to the recent death of Michelle Pierre Louis who worked in the building. During the demonstrations, they also honored the deaths of other homeless shelter security officers who’ve died from the coronavirus.

According to Charmaine Lathan, who works at a homeless shelter in the Bronx, employees like her shouldn’t be worried about the affordability of healthcare.

“I understand how vulnerable residents at shelters are, because I am one of them. I live at a shelter with my three kids,” stated Lathan. “My family and I have health coverage because we qualify for Medicaid. But people who work full-time like me shouldn’t have to depend on Medicaid for healthcare. And many of my co-workers can’t afford to pay the high premiums or co-pays.

“When we are every day exposed to a deadly disease, we should not have to worry about whether or not we can get the medical care we need,” Lathan continued.

During the demonstration, workers relayed stories about privately-run homeless shelter employees earning lower than standard wages in their profession and being consistently discouraged from taking sick time despite not having constant access to personal protective equipment.

Neither the city, nor the MAve Hotel responded to requests for comment.

Security officers at these shelters say they’re struggling to support their families with current wages and said it’s dangerous to not have proper access to health care during a global pandemic.

“They say COVID-19 is under control in New York, but in the population we serve it’s not going anywhere, so those of us working in shelters are continuously at risk, and many of us don’t get the protection we deserve and need,” stated Lisa Magana, who works as a homeless shelter security officer in Queens. “I have compassion for the people we serve, but it’s a dangerous situation.”

Recently, SEIU 32BJ filed a complaint with the New York State Attorney General Letitia James’ office on behalf of officers close to two dozen privately-run shelters. Their beef? Lack of PPEs and complaints from officers about violations of paid sick leave laws.

Elected officials declared themselves on the security officers’ side.
“We’re talking about a workforce that is majority Black and people of color,” stated New York City Council Member Carlina Rivera. “They earn poverty wages, and lack access to affordable health care and meaningful paid time off. Our safety net and our public dollars should lift people up, not perpetuate inequality.”

“The conditions that these men and women are forced to work under are unacceptable,” added Council Member Francisco Moya, who’s presenting legislation to make sure security officers are paid a prevailing wage. “They are heroes serving on the frontlines of our shelter system and in the epicenter of an unprecedented public health crisis. It’s our responsibility to ensure that they have the basic protections they need.”