NEW YORK — Security officers at crowded, privately run homeless shelters in New York City say they’ve been forced to choose between their paychecks and their health.
Seven officers working in several different shelters have filed formal complaints with the city Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, claiming their employers are violating the city’s Paid Safe and Sick Leave law.
According to Denis Johnston, vice president of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, the employers either delayed or withheld sick pay, required doctors’ notes for one- or two-day absences, and retaliated against those who took sick time.
“Shelter security officers are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “They are charged with protecting the city’s most vulnerable residents, and they are classified by the state as essential.”
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He said the union is calling for an investigation of private shelter contractors’ compliance with the paid sick-leave law.
Roneill Booker, a shift supervisor at one of the shelters, said they were not given an adequate supply of gloves, masks and hand sanitizer. When he refused to work a double shift after reporting that another guard was sick, he said, he was fired.
“So, I was put in a very unsafe working environment,” Booker said, “and they terminated me because I was not willing to go through working without protective gear.”
The shelters, operating under contracts with the city, employ almost 700 nonunion security officers at locations around the five boroughs.
Johnston said nonunion security officers in private shelters are paid just above minimum wage and don’t get affordable health insurance, making going to the doctor for a note more expensive than not getting paid for a sick day.
“These expenses are drawing on what is already a stretched family household budget,” he said, “making it even more painful that their rights are being violated around this paid sick-leave law.”
32BJ represents more than 1,000 unionized security officers at city-run shelters. More information is online at seiu32bj.org.