Housing Works Union (300609)

Housing Works employees gave themselves a late Christmas present last week.

Employees at Housing Works, in a vote of 88% to 12%, agreed to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) after two years of organizing efforts.

The vote was conducted via mail-in ballots that were sent to the Labor Board on Dec. 14.

The union will now represent all 605 Housing Works employees in the five boroughs and help negotiate a contract with Housing Works this year. Workers at the bargaining table will reportedly deal with all issues involving health care, retail, social work and legal.

Workers hope that their affiliation with RWDSU will help them fix issues that have exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve complained about long hours and low wages at the organizations’ thrift stores and bookshops around the city citing an average pay of $16 an hour during 16-hour days and six-day weeks.

RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said that his union’s looking forward to bargaining on behalf of the union hoping to make inroads with the higher ups at the nonprofit.

“We’re proud to finally and officially welcome the 605 workers employed by Housing Works into our union,” said Appelbaum in a statement. “These workers experienced a needlessly long fight to unionize their workplace. Their tenacity, and fortitude never wavered in this unnecessarily long process, which was stalled by their employer at every turn. Together, they are ready to win a strong contract that will only enhance their ability to care for the Housing Works community.

“The results of this union election continue to show that the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is to join together in a union,” Applebaum concluded.

Housing Works is a nonprofit organization founded in 1990 by members of the activist group ACT UP. The organization serves homeless New Yorkers living with AIDS and the HIV virus. Over a decade ago the nonprofit won a lawsuit and were awarded $5 million after claims that it lost government contracts as a result of criticizing then mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s policies.

This time, workers want the nonprofit to award them with better working conditions. It’s something Housing Works President Matt Bernardo is read to work on.

“For two years as the union organized Housing Works employees, we remained steadfastly neutral and worked to ensure that every eligible employee had the opportunity to make their voice heard in this election,” said Bernardo to the AmNews. “And for the last two years, we have affirmed and reaffirmed our commitment to do what a majority of our employees wanted, and we will of course abide by that commitment in light of this result.

Bernardo said Housing Works will bargain in good faith and hope to further its commitment to advocating for clients while working with the union in contract negotiations. “For three decades, Housing Works’ priority has always been our mission and the clients we serve: New Yorkers experiencing homelessness while managing HIV/AIDS or, more recently, COVID-19,” continued Bernardo. “At the same time, we care deeply about our employees, and we will continue to do our best to support and advocate for them as we always have.”