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NYCHA Employees to Get Masks Even as Workplace Tensions Rise

NYCHA Building
NYCHA workers are finally getting masks.
Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A half-million surgical masks were on the way to NYCHA employees Tuesday — even as coronavirus-stoked tensions grew over a management crackdown on workers.

The mask infusion came after THE CITY revealed Sunday that maintenance workers were going into tenant apartments without any protective gear.

The next day, Mayor Bill de Blasio provided 39,000 masks. On Tuesday, HUD Regional Administrator Lynne Patton pledged to obtain 500,000. About 56,000 of those were promptly delivered, with the rest expected by April 13.

NYCHA Chair Gregory Russ said the masks were being distributed “to all operations and development staff, as well as other departments with essential staff.”

Patton tweeted: “Together we were thrilled to ID 500,000 masks arriving this week at nearly $1 less than the city was paying!”

Lynne Patton
HUD official Lynne Patton attends a press conference in the Jacob Javits Federal Building announcing a federal monitor for NYCHA, Jan. 31, 2019.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The masks came as long-overdue good news to workers and tenants who fear exposure to the virus. Union officials said hundreds of workers have called in sick, and emails obtained by THE CITY showed building managers reporting rampant illnesses and worse among employees and tenants.

NYCHA officials have refused to say how many employees have been infected by coronavirus and whether any have died from COVID-19. The public housing agency said it’s not keeping tabs on the health of its 400,000 tenants — about 20% of whom are 62 or older.

On the Job Strife

Meanwhile, employee anger grew as some managers were being allowed to work from home as lower staff were threatened with discipline if they didn’t stay productive.

About 1,900 of NYCHA’s 10,000-member workforce is now toiling remotely — primarily senior managers based out of the housing authority’s headquarters at 250 Broadway.

250 Broadway
NYCHA’s offices 250 Broadway
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

But all frontline maintenance employees and trades staff, along with those who work in management offices in each of NYCHA’s 326 developments have so far been required to show up.

This has created some friction on the ground. As THE CITY detailed Sunday, several Bronx managers are concerned about the health of their staff and tenants.

On Monday, the acting director of a NYCHA division called Mixed-Finance that operates about 4,000 apartments across the city, told maintenance crew supervisors to crack down on unproductive employees.

In an email obtained by THE CITY, Carl Walton II, advised the supervisors to monitor “wrench time” — the time employees are actually working.

“Ensure staff continues to carry their own respective to the overall group of Maintenance workers,” Walton wrote. “Those that are not producing, should be disciplined ensuring progressive disciplining processes are adhered to when done.”

He demanded “daily monitoring of this area,” adding, “This fails directly under your purview.”

Reached Tuesday, Walton said he was not allowed to speak to the press. A spokesperson for NYCHA declined to discuss Walton’s email.

Some Stay Home

At the same time, a top NYCHA manager sent a memo to property managers across Brooklyn, moving for the first time to allow front office workers to work at home — but only every other day.

“We are currently canvassing your location for you and office employees to telework from home on alternate days (every other day),” reads the email from Joan Akers, principal administrative associate in the Brooklyn property management office.

Akers said each development would have to come up with a staggered schedule so that there’s one manager or assistant manager, one superintendent or assistant superintendent, one secretary and one housing assistant on duty every day, Monday through Friday.

That incensed Angela Williams, the property manager at Brooklyn’s Farragut Houses.

“Why are you putting workers in jeopardy for things that really aren’t an emergency?” Williams asked, noting that tenants who show up in the office are usually there seeking help from maintenance.

‘We Were Exposed’

In the last few days, she said an assistant superintendent went home sick and later texted he had a bad fever and was having difficulty breathing.

“We were exposed,” she said. “I’m 50 years old. I have two other employees here with asthma. Pretty soon there’s going to be no staff. They’re going to have to close the office.”

“I really don’t think I should be coming in here,” she added. “We’re talking about life.”

Her comments echoed those expressed in recent email exchanges among Bronx property managers, who complained NYCHA brass was leaving them, their workers and tenants exposed to coronavirus dangers.

“I am very concerned for the health and well being of my staff and myself,” Shanice Rhodes, a building manager at the Morris Houses, wrote in one of a series of emails obtained by THE CITY.

“A resident came in here a couple of days ago coughing to the point that she could not even breath,” Rhodes added. “She had to be told to leave.”

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