(NEW YORK, NY) – Today, a delegation of Housing Works workers formally filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Brooklyn, New York. Despite Housing Works’ every attempt to delay a fair unionization process, workers said enough is enough and filed for a federal election.
This filing came less than 24-hours after Housing Works refused to voluntarily recognize the union. On Thursday afternoon, a delegation of workers shared with Housing Works’ leadership that a majority of workers have signed authorization cards allowing the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) to represent them. With a majority of workers in favor of the union, workers asked Housing Works to voluntarily recognize the union so that contract negotiations could commence swiftly around a host of issues workers are facing at the HIV/AIDS non-profit. Housing Works Founder, Charles King, refused to recognize the union.
This filing ends a six-month fight by workers to have the progressive non-profit sign on to a neutrality agreement that would have ensured a fair unionization process, rather than what the Trump-led NLRB currently has in place. After several delays by Housing Works, workers had no choice but to file for an election.
Late last year, 100+ workers walked out demanding their workplace concerns be heard. It was followed by an elected official delegation visit, and the delivery of a letter signed by nearly 70 elected officials urging the non-profit to sign a neutrality agreement with a fair election process. Workers had hoped that their progressive employer Housing Works would agree to ensure a fair unionization process through a neutral third-party election. After repeated meetings, Housing Works refused to agree to a fair process, leaving workers with no choice but to file with the NLRB.
Today, a delegation of workers filed for an election under the NLRB despite potential delays by Housing Works. The union and workers urge Housing Works to agree to an election as swiftly as possible and to let workers vote free of intimidation despite not having a contractual neutrality agreement.
“I am incredibly proud of the workers at Housing Works for standing up for their right to have a collective voice. Workers stood before their employer yesterday, with a majority of workers supporting the union; but their so-called progressive employer leaned back and said no to recognizing their union. Today, workers will file for an election, and their employer should stop trying to stand in their way. Charles King is gaslighting his workers when he says he is ‘neutral’, and the workers won’t stand for it any longer. Being neutral means letting workers decide on their own without intimidation from their employer whether they want a union. The workers have demonstrated that they do want a union – and Charles King refuses to accept their decision. That is not being ‘neutral’, said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
Brian Grady, Housing Works – Downtown Brooklyn, Housing Coordinator:
“I’ve been the Housing Coordinator at Housing Works for over a year and a half. I had high hopes for Housing Works but after working here for a while I’ve found that there is a high turnover because of many structural issues. Low pay, problems with paid time off, and the lack of a living wage at this job are demoralizing for us. With a union, we can fix Housing Works and make it a good place to work.”
Maren Hurley, Housing Works – Midtown Manhattan, Reentry Group Facilitators with the SMART Department:
“Our clients are concerned at the high turnover rates and the lack of response from management to both staff and clients on this and other concerns. Working for Housing Works is a constant ethical crisis, not only for our wellbeing but also that of our clients, that can and needs to change. We as reentry service providers recognize that we work in a para-military environment, however we do not consent to endangerment of our safety through mishandling of sexual harassment incidents, exposure to extreme temperatures and retaliation by leadership.”
Adrian Downing-Espinal, Housing Works – Midtown Manhattan, Harm Reduction/Substance Use Councilor:
“It’s demoralizing that an organization with Act Up roots, which is a model for radical organizing would be so against a grass roots union movement. It’s also shocking that it would do business with a ‘union avoidance’ law firm that is the antithesis of progressive values. I came to Housing Works because of the mission and the values of the organization. There is a solid core of workers who are committed to the Housing Works mission, but a lack of will from management to support us in our fight for a union voice.”
For months, workers at Housing Works have raised serious concerns about their workplace environment to management. With conditions only worsening, workers believe that union representation is the best way for them to address their concerns. Workers have described 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 for workers transitioning genders. These workplace issues are central not just to employee welfare, but to client care as well.
Housing Works provides housing assistance, and health and wellness care to thousands of New Yorkers living with HIV+/AIDS, as well as raising funds for its work through a number of book, clothing, and furniture retail thrift stores. Workers believe in the mission of the organization and want the same standard of care for employees as it provides for clients.
Housing Works’ actions have thus far shown an anti-union animus and a refusal to be neutral despite claiming otherwise. A signed agreement would have shown a real commitment to neutrality and to an orderly and respectful process. Despite their previous actions workers are urging the non-profit to live up to its progressive principles and allow an NLRB election to move forward without delay so that workers can fully exercise their right to join a union.