Brooklyn, NY – This week, Housing Works employees striving to unionize with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union [RWSDSU] officially filed for a federal election with the National Labor Relations Board [NLRB] — and although it might have been just what the advocacy group’s CEO wanted all along — they are confident they will win.
Housing Works employees endeavoring to unionize in the face of low pay, inadequate health insurance, insufficient time off and high turnover rates, have spent months hoping that organization CEO Charles King would sign onto a neutrality agreement. But King, while insisting that he and the Housing Works leadership are not anti-union, has steadfastly refused to do so.
This past Thursday, King refused another request from workers to voluntarily recognize the union. The following day — St. Valentine’s Day — a delegation of Housing Works employees left their Lawrence Street offices in Downtown, Brooklyn and marched more than 400 union cards over to the local NLRB outlet located at 2 Metro Tech.
“It could be what he wanted all along — I don’t know,” Adam Obernauer, RWDSU Director of Retail Organizing told LaborPress. “We didn’t want to go ahead and file with the NLRB because we wanted to find a process that was mutually agreed upon, that was less stringent upon the strict guidelines of the NLRB.”
With about 600 Housing Workers in total, union supports are confident they have the overwhelming numbers needed to duly designate RWDSU as their workplace representatives.
But it won’t be a slam dunk given the make up of the NLRB under the Trump administration.
RWDSU views workers who signed union cards as one bargaining unit — a position King and the Housing Workers leadership could challenge.
“They could challenge that, they could challenge many things throughout the process because the NLRB is not necessarily favorable to working people today under the Trump administration — that’s the risk that we run,” Obernauer said. “But because we couldn’t come to an agreement, we had to move forward in this way.”
King alluded to a potential bargaining unit issue in a statement released in response to this week’s NLRB election filing, in which he reiterated the organization’s contention that Housing Works has been neutral throughout the entire RWDSU organizing campaign while steadfastly protecting the “rights of employees.”
“And we have committed to bargain in good faith if a majority of our employees in an appropriate unit vote for union,” King said. “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.”
King further blames a lack of governmental funding for many of the work issues employees have with his organization.
In his response to the NLRB election filing, King added. “Our focus remains on continuing to work with our employees to advocate in City Hall and Albany for changes in our funding that will benefit our employees and to focus on the needs of our clientele.”
Pro-union Housing Works employees, however, say that the numbers and “sense of solidarity” that they have as “colleagues and comrades” is “something you can’t replace.”
“We kind of have been acting as a union as well,” Downtown Brooklyn Care Manager Rebecca Mitnik told LaborPress. “We feel more empowered to confront our working conditions; things on site. In terms of how the NLRB process goes forward — I just hope our employer does not fight our bargaining unit. But it seems like they may. However, that will cause big problems on their end because that’s like 30-something LLCs. That’s a lot of paperwork — and we really are one unit.”
Earlier this month, the House voted 224-194 to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act. The Pro-Act has been hailed as the most significant upgrade to U.S. labor law in 80 years, and seeks, in part, to outlaw captive audience meetings designed to torpedo union membership and to also enable workers to choose unionization through a simple majority or “card check.”
“If the Pro Act was enacted, we would have already certified the unit here and we could start bargaining,” Obernauer said on Friday.