New York City Council Members Diana Ayala and Francisco Moya have introduced legislation that would provide city homeless shelter security officers with more training and better wages and benefits for security officers working at privately-run shelters under contract with City Hall.

Moya stated that the bill (Int 2006-2020) would require that officers at privately-run shelters contracted with the City receive the prevailing wage for the industry. This means more benefits and better wages.

“In light of the risks posed to the shelter community by COVID-19 and the current moment of reckoning with structural racism in New York City, we need to reconsider how we provide security in the shelter system,” said Ayala during a news conference. “This new requirement will help ensure that workers have the tools they need to create a safe and supportive environment for clients, and improve the quality of jobs that are held disproportionately by people of color.”
The bill garnered the approval of union officials.

“The issues for security officers in homeless shelters, for their families and the people they serve are a matter of racial justice, given that so many of the officers, and so many of the people they serve, are Black and Brown and disproportionately affected by the pandemic,” said Denis Johnston, vice president of SEIU 32BJ and head of the union’s New York Security Division. The union’s security division includes over 1,000 officers who work at privately-run shelters who have work around the homeless and many of the officers are Black and Latino. With the COVID-19 global pandemic taking the lives of Blacks and Latinos at higher rates, Johnston feels that these employees deserve more benefits and protections to match security officers who work at city-run shelters.

“Our union has been fighting to improve conditions for officers working at shelters run by private non-profit entities,” continued Johnston. These officers working in an environment that is challenging even in the best of times should not have to bear the extra burden of worrying whether their wages can support their families, whether they can get medical care in the middle of a pandemic, or whether they have the tools to manage situations that arise with residents in crisis.”

Homeless shelters have been incubators for the coronavirus. According to the New York City Department of Homeless Service, among 17,000 single adults in shelters, more than 650 COVID-19 cases were identified in April alone with 50 of those cases resulting in death. Seven security officers have died from COVID-19 cases.

The officers in privately-run shelters currently make virtually the minimum wage and have complained about lack of access to health insurance and personal protective equipment. many have said that they don’t have effective access to health insurance. At the moment, officers at privately-run shelters pay out of pocket annually for eight year trainings to maintain their license while city-run trainers get 40 hours of training.

One union member hopes the city council comes through in the clutch for them.

“I understand how vulnerable residents at shelters are, because I am one of them. I live in a shelter with my three kids,” said Charmaine Lathan, a security officer who works at a shelter at a midtown Manhattan hotel. “Getting the same wages that DHS security officers get would be a big help for all of us. For me, it could make the difference between living in the shelter or having an apartment of my own.

“And having access to better benefits, and a stronger system for paid days off would make a big difference in our lives at this time that we need to look out for our health, and the health of our families,” Lathan concluded.