Housing Works files for unionization election

housing works
Housing Works employees filed for a unionization election with the National Labor Relations Board on Feb. 14.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Employees at a Downtown-based non-profit are asking Uncle Sam to oversee their unionization efforts, after the company’s chief executive refused to recognize a company-wide vote to organize under the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

“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,” said RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum. “Charles King is gaslighting his workers when he says he is ‘neutral’, and the workers won’t stand for it any longer.”

About half a dozen employees of the organization and reps for the union dropped off signed union authorization cards by 402 of the roughly 650 Housing Works employees to be represented by RWDSU at the federal National Labor Relations Board offices Downtown on Friday, asking the agency to hold a companywide election for union representation.

King dismissed a plea by a group of his employees to voluntarily recognize the union drive in a tense confrontation at the organization’s Lawrence Street headquarters Thursday, the Daily News reported.

Employees of the company — which hosts a number of thrift shops around the city and offers homeless services to New Yorkers suffering from HIV and AIDS — have grown frustrated with too large case loads, low pay and a paid time off policy that demands they use up their hours on federal holidays, according to one worker.

“If the office is closed on Christmas, you have to use eight hours of your PTO for federal holidays, and I’m Jewish, I don’t care about Christmas,” said health and home care manager Moriah Engelberg. “I’ll ask to work in the field that day and they’ll say, ‘No you’re required to take those days off because the offices are closed.'”

Last October, more than 100 employees walked out and rallied at Borough Hall demanding better working conditions, Gay City News reported at the time

Engelberg said she joined Housing Works because she supports its activism, but accused King of neglecting his principles when it comes to his own employees.

“It’s a slap in the face to ask us to come to advocacy meetings and events that are required as part of the job and for him to be like ‘do civil disobedience’ and then for him to be so hard-headed with the worker’s advocacy,” she said.

Organizers previously tried to get King to pledge neutrality in union negotiations, supported by a letter signed by a slate of local city and state electeds.

They questioned King’s claims of neutrality after the company hired Chicago-based labor law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP, which advertises itself as keeping workplaces “union-free,” according to its website, and has a decades-long history of anti-labor cases.

Housing Works leaders also sent out a link to the union-critical website unionfacts.com to supervisors, according to a case manager.

King reiterated that the company would remain neutral and would accept a union if the majority of employees vote for it.

“Throughout this union’s long effort to organize Housing Works’ employees, we have remained neutral in regards to the organizing campaign, we have protected the rights of our employees, and we have committed to bargain in good faith if a majority of our employees in an appropriate unit vote for a union,” he said in a statement. “As we have told our employees throughout this process, we want to do what the majority of them want within the legal guidelines established by the NLRB.”