Housing Works—which employs more than 600 RWDSU members at housing units, thrift stores, healthcare, and other locations throughout its sprawling operations in New York City—is hurting its employees by failing to negotiate a union contract in good faith, which the RWDSU has alleged in a new unfair labor practice charge filed with the NLRB. It’s outrageous conduct, but unfortunately, fits the recent pattern from an employer that has fought its workers—and betrayed the organization’s progressive roots—throughout the workers’ entire organizing campaign.
Housing Works was founded in 1990 by several members of ACT UP to provide supportive services for people living with HIV/AIDS. But during the workers’ organizing campaign, Housing Works has behaved more like an insensitive corporate behemoth than a progressive organization with activist roots. And now, during negotiations, we are seeing Housing Works’ management dive back into the same big-business anti-union playbook.
For almost a year, Housing Works employees have been trying to negotiate their first union contract. They are seeking safer workplaces, a voice on the job, and more manageable caseloads so they can give Housing Works clients—some of the most vulnerable members of our communities—better care. Housing Works is stalling on even the most basic foundations of a union contract, including agreements on sufficient layoff notice and protections and guaranteed livable wages for workers in New York City. They fail to appreciate the bargaining committee’s concerns on important issues, such as creating manageable caseloads, health and safety training, safe workplaces, and providing unpaid mental health leave for workers who may suffer mental health traumas on the job.
They reject the union’s wage demands but employ high-priced lawyers as their contract negotiators. Management even showed its contempt for workers by taking too long to engage productively in conversations about workers’ preferred pronouns, which is painfully ironic considering Housing Works was founded by LGBTQ activists during a global health crisis. Over 30 years later, amidst another global health crisis, Housing Works is dismissing workers’ health and safety proposals and proper staffing concerns, and making it clear that despite the workers’ successful union organizing drive, management wants to pretend that nothing has changed.
On top of it all, Housing Works has wasted valuable time by providing the bargaining committee with bad data for wage negotiations. As a result, the RWDSU filed an unfair labor practice charge against Housing Works on February 22, 2022 with the Brooklyn office of the NLRB for bad faith bargaining.
Housing Works employees started their grassroots campaign to unionize with the RWDSU because they wanted to be able to do their jobs better and provide better care for Housing Works clients. These workers make a real difference in the lives of the people they serve, and now, they want a union contract to make a real difference in their ability to provide for themselves and their families, and provide proper care to their clients with the protection, safety, and respect that they deserve. Housing Works needs to live up to its progressive roots and ideals and stop behaving like the worst of corporate America.
The message is clear to Housing Works: stop stalling and start taking your employees’ concerns seriously and pay them what they deserve.
Stuart Appelbaum is president, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Email:
www.rwdsu.org; Twitter: @sappelbaum.