Housing Works employees’ voices will finally be heard

STUART APPELBAUM President, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union | 3/5/2020, midnight
Housing Works employees have spent over a year trying to get their boss to accept that they want to join ...
Stuart Appelbaum

Housing Works employees have spent over a year trying to get their boss to accept that they want to join the RWDSU. Workers at the otherwise progressive Housing Works, founded in 1990 by several members of ACT UP in order to provide housing, health care, job training, legal assistance, and other supportive services for people living with HIV/AIDS, assumed that their employer would respect their rights and their wishes to join a union. But they were wrong.

After failing to secure a neutrality agreement that would promise zero interference from management during an organizing drive, Housing Works employees demanded recognition from their employer. Housing Works refused to recognize the union, despite a majority of the workers choosing to support the unionization efforts. Now, fed up with the delays and obfuscation, Housing Works employees have filed for an NLRB election so their wishes to join a union can finally be realized. After numerous meetings with Housing Works and delays by management, they had no other choice.

It didn’t have to be this difficult. By insisting on an NLRB election, Housing Works has ensured the process will take more time and resources and delay better treatment for its workers and better care for its clients.

The 650 Housing Works employees at housing units, thrift stores, health care, and other locations throughout New York City have been clear from the outset that they need union representation to address a number of important issues and to provide their clients with the best possible care. Workers at Housing Works have raised serious concerns to management, describing unmanageable caseloads, lack of training, discrimination and harassment, and health and safety issues. Workers have raised concerns about pay and benefits, including that their health insurance doesn’t provide adequate coverage, such as for workers transitioning genders.

These workplace concerns are central not just to employee welfare, but to client care as well, with these issues leading to high turnover rates for employees.

Workers believe that union representation is the best way for them to address their concerns. Housing Works’ refusal to recognize the union—or at least to sign a neutrality agreement—has hindered that process.

And now, Housing Works is escalating their campaign to deny their workers’ rights by attempting to turn workers against the union with a classic misinformation campaign, even after claiming countless times that they would respect their workers’ wishes and remain “neutral.” Housing Works leadership does not know what remaining neutral truly means. By continuing their misguided fight to deny workers their rights, Housing Works continues to operate in a manner contrary to their progressive values.

Housing Works employees strive every day to improve the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS, and their work makes a real difference. It’s not too much for them to expect that their employer lives up to the same progressive principles toward their own workers. It’s past time that Housing Works ends its union-busting fight against its own workers, and allows the process to continue unimpeded.