Security officers call out homeless shelter for messing with their sick time

Stephon Johnson | 5/7/2020, midnight

Security officers at homeless shelters around the city have filed formal complaints with the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. They’ve accused their employers, Priority 1 Security Services and Sera Services, of violating New York City’s paid sick leave law.

In the complaints, the officers claim their employers haven’t paid them for sick days on time and refuse to do so. When they do, they’ve asked workers for medical documentation for one or two-day absences. The companies allegedly retaliated against any workers who used sick time and refused to inform them of their rights under the city’s paid sick leave law.

During a teleconference with reporters last week, workers and union leaders spoke about the alleged wrongdoings.

“I started working for Sera Security in 2015, and I have never once been paid for any sick time or any time I’ve taken off,” stated Ronneil Booker, who until recently worked as a site supervisor at a homeless shelter at 1145 Southern Boulevard in the Bronx until recently. “When I had to be with my wife in the hospital last month because she had a miscarriage and needed surgery, I requested a sick day, but have not been paid for it to this day.

“I know other co-workers who have the same situation,” continued Booker. “Some take paid sick days they are never paid for. Sometimes they are not allowed to take a sick day, or threatened with a write-up if they do.”

Booker was done with his job after April 2, when he found out one of the officers at the shelter had been coming in sick for three days with symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Booker said he made a judgment call and told the worker they should go home despite her fear of not being paid sick time. As a result, the site’s account manager told Booker that because he sent the worker home, he’d have to work a double shift. He refused and was fired.

“These officers keep the families that use the shelter system safe, and they deserve to be kept safe from the disease that has been taking the lives of hundreds of New Yorkers daily, and which is responsible to date for at least 23 deaths among people who use that system,” said 32BJ Vice President and head of the New York Security Division Denis Johnston. “Union workers who have similar jobs receive better wages, employer-paid quality health care, and protections that mitigate the risks they are taking as they go to work every day.”

The officers who’ve filed complaints often lack access to health benefits. Daniel McKie, who worked for Priority One at a Queens homeless shelter, pays $150 a week for health care premiums for his family. Priority One allegedly owes him 40 hours of paid time off.

Priority One employs approximately 180 security officers at shelters operated by Children’s Community Services via contract with the New York Department of Homeless Services (DHS). Sera employs close to 500 security officers at shelter sites across the city, the majority of them operated by Acacia Network Housing (also under contract with DHS).

New York City Council Member Diana Ayala said that the security officers are owed a safety net and “every protection possible during this crisis.

“I represent the Bronx, which has more New Yorkers in shelters than any other borough,” stated Ayala. “Our homeless clients and the dedicated staff who serve them are not expendable, and paid sick violations that jeopardize their health and safety need to stop immediately.” 

New York City Council Member and General Welfare Committee Chair Steve Levin said the security officers are entitled to pack sick time and blasted the companies who employ them.

“These practices by Priority One and Sera Security endanger essential workers and vulnerable residents in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis,” stated Levin. “We must ensure that contractors in our shelters operate responsibly and comply with the city’s Paid Sick Law. “