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32BJ SEIU Rallies Behind New York City Security Officers ‘Suffering Under Unequal Caste System’

Published Sunday, June 28, 2020
by Steve Wishnia/
32BJ SEIU Rallies Behind New York City Security Officers ‘Suffering Under Unequal Caste System’

(NEW YORK CITY) - Chanting “Equal Pay for Equal Work,” about 60 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Members rallied outside a Manhattan Homeless Shelter last week, demanding that privately run shelters that receive city funds pay their Security Officers the same wages that guards at city-run shelters get.

“This ‘double standard is unfair,’” 32BJ SEIU Vice President Denis Johnston, head of the Union’s Commercial Security Division, told the crowd outside the MAve Hotel at Madison Avenue and East 27th Street.

The city has been renting rooms to house the homeless in the 72-bed hotel, upstairs from a storefront psychic and a vegan juice bar, since 2016.

The Union is trying to organize the 2,000 to 3,000 Security Officers at the roughly 600 homeless shelters run by non-profit organizations.

Guards at shelters directly run by the city, along with those hired by contractors - such as Allied to work at city agencies, won a Prevailing Wage deal in 2009, Johnston told LaborPress after the rally.  They made as little as $9 or $10 an hour before it, he said.

Union Security Officers now make about $18.50, plus about $6 in benefits, he added.  But Non-Union Guards working at privately run shelters make the $15 Minimum Wage or maybe a nickel above it, and have health insurance with high premiums and co-payments.

In the midst of a pandemic, he said, it is “unconscionable” they do not have adequate health care coverage.

“This is a ‘caste system,’ Brothers and Sisters,” Johnston told those at the rally. “This is a ‘two-tier’ system.”

“I ‘know how vulnerable (shelter) residents are, because I am one of them,’” Charmaine Latham, a Security Officer at a privately-run shelter in the Bronx, told the rally.

The 43-year-old mother of three said her family now lives in a shelter, because she lost her apartment when her housing aid got cut off after she started working full-time.

She likes her job, she said, but: “I have Co-Workers ‘who don’t qualify for’ Medicaid ‘and can’t afford’ health care.  ‘We need to know that we can support our families.’”

Latham told LaborPress that she has adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on the job and that residents are wearing masks in the shelter.

However, 32BJ has filed a complaint with New York State Attorney General Letitia James’ Office that Security Officers at more than 20 privately run shelters have had problems getting proper protective gear.

Seventeen Guards who are 32BJ Members have died from the COVID-19 virus, Johnston said, including seven who worked in homeless shelters. 

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