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Security Officers Safeguarding NYC Homeless Shelters Forced to Work Sick; Lack Protection from Coronavirus Spread

New York, NY – Security officers tasked with safeguarding area homeless shelters during the coronavirus crisis say they don’t have the necessary items to protect themselves — and are too afraid to stay home if they feel sick.  

Security officers working at city shelters say their bosses are putting the lives of employees, clients and “everyone else at risk.”

Roneill Booker, a security officer at a city-run homeless shelter in the Bronx was reportedly fired from his supervisory position on April 2, after complaining about the lack of personal protection equipment [PPE] and blowing the whistle on sick co-workers continuing to show up for work. 

“Basically, [they] told me you can take your ball and go home,” Booker told reporters earlier this week. 

So far, seven security officers working for two private firms running city shelters around town  — Priority 1 Security Services and Sera Security Services — have filed complaints with the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection [DCWP] charging the companies with multiple violations of the city’s paid sick leave law. 

Daniel McKie, a security officer at a homeless shelter in Queens, said that his company attempted to use his guaranteed paid sick days for approved time off he took in 2019. 

“They told me the policy had changed,  they no longer paid for time off — but it was already approved,” McKie said. 

It’s unclear just how many security officers at city homeless shelters have tested positive for COVID-19, but McKie told LaborPress that a co-worker he used to supervise just recently passed away from the disease. 

New York City officials, on Wednesday, April 15, said that at least 27 homeless people have succumbed to the disease. As many as 460 others are confirmed COVID-19 positive. 

Last week, NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, along with other elected officials and grassroots organizations — called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to utilize some 30,000 vacant hotels rooms throughout the city to help house the homeless. 

Meanwhile, Booker said that Sera’s failure to provide him and his co-workers with proper PPE is the putting “him, the clients and everybody at risk.” 

“They gave us a box of gloves and hand sanitizer,” he said. “When that box ran out, they said they have no equipment.”

According to Booker, his bosses first tried to compel him to work an extra shift by threatening his title and telling him, “That’s what supervisors do.”

”I was put in a very unsafe work environment— they terminated me, basically, because I was not wiling to work without protective gear,” he said.

After waiting more than a week for an order of personal protective equipment that allegedly never arrived, McKie said his Priority 1 bosses ultimately produced “two wash clothes and five Paris of gloves” for the entire shelter. 

Denis Johnston, 32BJ SEIU VP and head of the NY Security Division, said that Priority 1 and Sera Securities are, indeed, “putting workers at risk.” 

“It’s galling,” he said. “[Workers], need to be protected.”

The union is calling on both Priority 1 and Sera Securities to immediately supply security officers with proper personal protection equipment —in addition to providing affordable employer-based healthcare and meaningful paid leave. 

32BJ SEIU is also calling on the DCWP to investigate both Priority 1 and Sera for violating paid sick leave regulations.

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