Amsterdam News - Housing works: let them vote! Column by RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum

Housing works: let them vote!


By Stuart Appelbaum

Housing Works––which provides housing, healthcare, job training, legal assistance, and other supportive services for people living with HIV/AIDS––has spent the year disrespecting its workers and doing everything it can to deny their right to unionize. As Housing Works workers have fought for better jobs and to improve their clients’ care, their bosses have disregarded their progressive roots in favor of old-school union-busting tactics. An organization with roots in radical activism retained a high-powered union-busting law firm who has now appealed to a Trump-appointed labor board to do their dirty work and crush their worker-driven union organizing campaign.  

And, much like Pres. Trump himself, they seem to have no problem bending the truth to suit their motives. While Housing Works has long claimed neutrality in this campaign, the truth is they have fought their workers every step of the way. While they claim to want a free and fair union election, they are fighting to suppress their workers’ rights by indefinitely delaying the election. Housing Works sees their workers’ conviction and are afraid they will lose.  

Housing Works’ latest move is outrageous, but also predictable from an organization that has continually betrayed its progressive roots. Early last month, the Brooklyn Region of the NLRB ruled that Housing Works’ reasons for continuing to delay the union election were not legally sufficient to stop the election and ordered ballots to be mailed to workers as they had agreed to do in February, long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Housing Works responded by appealing to Trump’s labor board in D.C. In their appeal they are asking to delay the election indefinitely, and are asking the union to re-sign up all workers to join the union––destroying over a years’ worth of work by their workers in favor of a “redo.” While publicly they continue to claim they want all of their workers to vote, their latest move lays bare their motive: to silence their workers’ voices by crushing the workers’ organizing drive.  

The 650 Housing Works employees at housing units, thrift stores, healthcare, and other locations throughout New York City have been clear from the outset that they need union representation to address a number of important issues and to provide their clients with the best possible care. Workers at Housing Works have raised serious concerns to management, describing 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, such as for workers transitioning genders. 

These workplace concerns are central not just to employee welfare, but to client care as well, with these issues leading to high turnover rates for employees.   

It is time for Housing Works to remember their roots for the good of their workers and their clients. By carrying on like the worst of corporate America, they bring shame to their entire organization. They need to stop fighting the election they’ve long claimed they want to see, and they need to start behaving as if their long-stated public stance of “neutrality” is real, not just public relations obfuscation.  

We demand of Housing Works: Let your workers vote! Stop the misinformation, stop the union-busting, and allow your workers to exercise their rights. 

Stuart Appelbaum is president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union,; Twitter: @sappelbaum