Politicians call out Housing Works CEO for trying to halt employee unionization

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Housing Works CEO Charles King faced off about an ongoing unionization of the company’s workers outside its Willoughby Street headquarters on Nov. 4.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Elected officials accused executives at a Downtown Brooklyn nonprofit of attempted union busting at a rally on Monday.

“What I’ve heard from you today… sounds a lot like a person who really is trying to not have a union,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

Employees at Housing works — a nonprofit dedicated to house homeless New Yorkers suffering from HIV and AIDS — are attempting to organize in response to what they claim are unfair working conditions, including low pay, high caseloads, and lousy benefits

And Monday’s actions followed a walkout on Oct. 29 that saw 100 workers leave their post to join a demonstration at Borough Hall, where some workers claimed management pressured them to bail on the union action.

“They had senior people asking people if they were going to the walkout,” said Brian Fleurantin, a case manager at Housing Works.

The company also hired Chicago-based labor law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP, which prides itself as keeping workplaces “union-free,” according to its website, and has a history of cases that include working against the 1960s agricultural labor activist Cesar Chavez and defending Harvey Weinstein’s film company against a slew of sexual harassment claims.

Senior Housing Works staff also sent out a link to the union-critical website unionfacts.com to supervisors, according to Fleurantin.

In response, Williams — along with a slew of city and state legislators — fired off a letter demanding charity honchos sign a pledge of neutrality forbidding them from meddling in the unionization effort, and the pols rallied in solidarity with workers on Monday.

Charles King, Chief Executive Officer of Housing Works, confronted the pols assembled outside the charity’s Lawrence Street HQ, where he flatly denied accusations of union busting, claiming the charity has maintained a healthy neutral stance throughout the unionization effort.

“Housing Works is committed to remaining neutral in this organizing campaign,” King said.

King did, however, reject the neutrality pledge, which requires workers watch a 90-minute video by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union on company time and allows the union access to its facilities to hold informational meetings, among other things.

But rep for the union said King is speaking out of the side of his mouth, and that organizers sent the charity head an email agreeing to drop those clauses from the neutrality agreement if Housing Works would simply pledge not to interfere with the labor effort, according to a Gay City News report.

Meanwhile, Fleurantin said employees at the nonprofit are being worked to the bone, and claim that management couldn’t care less about their staffer’s woes.

“Our case loads are so large and cases are so varied you don’t have all the time in the day to address every need imaginable,” said Fleurantin. “We feel that senior management say they hear us but they don’t.”

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
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