Teamsters Local 237

The Need for Contracting Accountability and Transparency at NYCHA

altMore than 8,000 members of Local 237 work at NYCHA buildings, which means that our union represents the largest number of workers at NYCHA. Approximately one third of them also live in NYCHA housing.

It is easy to see why Local 237 is very concerned with the policies and practices of NYCHA management. Our members are affected both on the job and in their homes. Over the years, through the eyes and ears of our NYCHA workers, Local 237 has offered countless suggestions. We have flagged problems in the making and we even convened a task force that produced a 12-page report of recommendations to improve NYCHA.

Nothing really changed.

Next Generation NYCHA is supposed to be the new blueprint for improvement. It has been called a game-changer. Yet I find two factors most disconcerting in this 100+ page document. (I) Of the “partners” and advisers who were consulted for the creation of this “game-changer” plan, not one union is listed, but 46 developers, private management, building or public relations companies are acknowledged. (II) Clearly, the direction in which NYCHA wants to go is privatization. The Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program for example, will allow NYCHA to use private sector management. If they do so, the Next Generation NYCHA will be in sharp contrast to the basic principle upon which public housing was conceived 80 years ago: Public land is not for private, commercial gain.

The justification NYCHA offers for this massive give-away plan is the pressure to generate muchneeded funding. But, the projections of revenue gained are contingent on many variables favorably coming together. This basis for desired funds is little more than unproven speculation and an unstable foundation for a 10-year agency overhaul.

At Local 237, we are particularly opposed to outsourcing of work that our members, or other NYCHA workers, are capable of doing.

I have repeatedly asked NYCHA management to show us data that proves cost savings resulting from outsourcing. To date, I have received no such data.

Similarly, NYCHA arguments centered on outsourcing as being more efficient have not been verified. On the other hand, our members have proven time and again that if they are given the required equipment, and if they are not impeded by a repair system that is poorly conceived, we can produce work with the best of them! Plus, our members don’t just come into a development, do a job and leave. They are accountable. They are the community.

Perhaps the most disturbing factor in NYCHA’s outsourcing of contracts is the issue of transparency. Contractors and especially sub-contractors can easily evade the mandate of the Davis Bacon law as was recently pointed out by a ruling of the National Labor Relations Board. They are not only vetted insufficiently, but the rules and regulations required of the contractor are often not applied to subcontractors at all. While it’s true that Local 237 is opposed to outsourcing work because it can cost us jobs, it is equally true that the lack of transparency in the process of outsourcing affects the quality of life at NYCHA, and can cost lives of workers as well.

Although there are many contractors with a history of shoddy work, work performed without oversight, and worker abuse that includes OSHA violations and charges of wage thievery by the employer, these offenses have not necessarily been non-starters in the award of contracts by NYCHA. Some awardees may not have even been the lowest bidder, nor minority or women-owned businesses, prompting questions about their selection.

Clearly, contract transparency has been opaque. Next Generation NYCHA calls for the expansion of a pilot program called OPMOM, which enables building managers to engage private contractors. This could result in outsourcing becoming the new workforce at NYCHA.

In July, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer issued a highly critical audit of NYCHA. In it, he determined that NYCHA has few checks and balances among its procedures and practices. He found that NYCHA was “making problems disappear on paper.” He went on to propose a plan, NYCHAStat, that would better track open work orders for each development and guarantee that NYCHA’s funds are being accounted for.

While NYCHA management responded to the audit by calling it “old hat,” nothing in Next Generation NYCHA seems to guarantee improvements in management deficiencies.

In addition, since the focus of this plan is privatization, what may occur is that this massive municipal agency, which affects the lives of 600,000 residents and 18,000 workers, would be diminishing its control, accountability and stability as a public authority — in effect, letting private entrepreneurs become New York City’s biggest landlord of public land.

If ever there was a time to establish stringent regulations and oversight mandates for contracting and subcontracting that protect both the resident and the worker, that time is now!

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