IHA workers given short reprieve from layoffs

Photo by Chris Sykes Members of SEIU Workers United Local 617 protest outside the Irvington Housing Authority on Tuesday, April 5, in response to news they will be fired by the agency they work for on Wednesday, April 20, as a cost-cutting move by Executive Director David Brown. The 13 maintenance workers slated to be fired have since been given an extension to Friday, May 6.

Photo by Chris Sykes
Members of SEIU Workers United Local 617 protest outside the Irvington Housing Authority on Tuesday, April 5, in response to news they will be fired by the agency they work for on Wednesday, April 20, as a cost-cutting move by Executive Director David Brown. The 13 maintenance workers slated to be fired have since been given an extension to Friday, May 6.

IRVINGTON, NJ — he 13 maintenance workers employed by the Irvington Housing Authority who were slated to be fired Wednesday, April 20, have received a small reprieve.

“We have been given an extension to May 6,” Rasheed Willis, a Blue Seal certified boiler operator and member of Service Employees International Union Local 617, said Tuesday, April 19. “The reason for that is the Irvington Housing Authority had responded to the Public Employees Relations Commission through our filing and has been postponed because they weren’t ready documentwise for the hearing. Thus, we’ve been extended until May 6.”

But Willis said that hasn’t stopped IHA Executive Director David Brown from making moves to replace him and 12 other maintenance workers scheduled to have their employment terminated. According to Willis, information he uncovered on www.newjerseybids.com leads him to think Brown has already been accepting bids, requests for procurement, requests for qualifications and other procurement solicitations.

In fact, on Tuesday, April 12, anyone who applied for the contract maintenance positions of: boiler maintenance and coverage; vacant unit turnover; grass cutting and snow removal was scheduled to come to the public housing complex at the intersection of Union and Nye avenues for preliminary walk-throughs, in preparation for the eventual awarding of the service contracts.

“Yeah they did the walk through on April 12,” said Delores Calloway, an IHA resident and former commissioner on Sunday, April 17. “But the residents still want to keep the old maintenance workers that we’ve already got.”

Caleb Bryant is the shop steward for SEIU Local 617, along with Antoine Corey. He said the reason for the layoff reprieve was that “the union filed a case with (the Public Employment Relations Commission) and the authority’s lawyer was not ready for a preliminary” hearing on the matter.

Bryant also confirmed Willis and Calloway’s reports about Brown having already contracted out the jobs previously done by current maintenance workers.

“They did all of that: They came through for boiler services and landscaping and snow removal and apartment turnovers,” said Bryant on Tuesday, April 11. “As a matter of fact, they had a landscaping company here yesterday cutting grass all over the place. That’s something we usually do. You say you don’t have any money, but you’re paying somebody to do the landscaping and cut the grass. I don’t even know if the commissioners have approved that; that’s something that has to be voted on.”

Bryant said he wants to rebut Brown’s assertions that there hasn’t been any mismanagement at the local agency on his watch. He said that is a stark contrast to the reality he, Willis and the other maintenance workers and IHA residents have lived and worked with for years that were cited by fellow union member Megan Chambers at the protest they staged outside the IHA compound Tuesday, April 5.

“We’re here because there’s serious financial mismanagement at the Housing Authority; it’s jeopardizing the jobs of all our 617 members who are the maintenance workers here and it’s jeopardizing the services for these residents who’ve seen cuts in services over the years,” said Chambers on Tuesday, April 5. “They lost the security department here. They lost about half of the maintenance workers years back. Now the plan is to eliminate the entire rest of maintenance, have no on-site maintenance staff here. Meanwhile, the executive director is taking home $202,000-plus a year. In fact, HUD has announced that his salary is $58,000 a year over the federally permissible cap. So now the Housing Authority is going to have to pay penalties repaying $58,000 a year for every year they’ve overpaid the man, while these folks live in buildings that are in disrepair. They don’t have enough maintenance services as it is. Everybody’s suffering.”

Brown denies this, saying Willis and Bryant have their facts wrong.

“Over the past 10 years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has cut the Irvington Housing Authority in operating funding and funding it at a 90-percent average; $4.5 million in comprehensive grant funding, which goes toward capital Improvements, along with capturing a project that would have amounted to $980,000 dollars that would have given the (Central Office Cost Center) of the Housing Authority nonfederal funding,” said Brown on Tuesday, April 5.

“In order for the Irvington Housing Authority to manage costs and provide for better services, and provide for a safe, decent and sanitary housing, in good repair for all the residents, they have made a business decision to contract out for maintenance services. In doing this, they will contract and do a cooperative shared services agreement with the local agency, plus the township of Irvington. In doing so, approximately 10 unskilled laborers will be laid off and more skilled laborers will do the work that will be done in a more efficient and safe manner to provide a greater level of services for the residents.”

Willis said he is not an “unskilled laborer.”

“I have a stationary engineer license or Blue Shield; I’m HVAC-certified and have a New Jersey pest control license, plus Local 68 training,” said Willis on Tuesday, April 19. “And our men have more than that. So Mr. Brown’s assertions definitely need to be responded to.”

Irvington NAACP Vice President Kathleen Witcher is also a former IHA commissioner and said Brown was correct on certain points of his defense against Chambers mismanagement allegations but, overall, she agreed with Willis and Bryant that they should keep their jobs.

“I am disappointed at the arrangements now described by the IHA for maintaining central office fee-based activities,” said Witcher on Monday, April 18. “We know that the workers, whether employed now or to be employed under what is called ‘shared services,’ would be untrained and underskilled. Public housing authorities across the country have provided for unskilled laborers to acquire their skills by cooperatives before. Also, shared services might mean training the laborers to do the services, including painting, masonry, roofing, etc. I think that there needs to be much more thought given, because it looks like Irvington seeks to hire some people who are untrained to replace some people who are untrained. What is the benefit?”

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