The head of the union representing many city Laborers defended the Housing Authority’s decision to staff them alongside Elevator Mechanics against safety concerns raised by another union.
Because of a shortage of Elevator Mechanic Helpers, the civil-service title assigned to help Elevator Mechanics, NYCHA hired 36 Laborers starting in February. Teamsters Local 237, which represents Elevator Mechanics and Elevator Mechanic Helpers, objected that the Laborers weren’t experienced enough to be performing such a dangerous job.
A Bad Rap?
But Kyle Simmons, the longtime president of District Council 37’s Laborers Local 924, called the criticism of his members working in the elevator division “unfounded” and argued that city Laborers can assist all skilled-trades workers.
“The Laborers are the support group,” he said during a phone interview. “It’s like how at a hospital, you have doctors and the nurses are the support staff.”
City Laborers “under immediate supervision” perform unskilled work requiring physical strength including operating vehicles and using power-driven equipment, according to the city’s description of the title's duties. Elevator Mechanic Helpers inspect elevator equipment and clean the tops of elevator cars and other work-spaces.
The Authority’s aging elevators across 326 developments have made it difficult for elevator repair staff to keep up with the work. In September alone, there were 3,600 elevator outages in public-housing developments, according to the City Comptroller's Office.
Helper Exam Delayed
The civil-service exam for the Elevator Mechanic Helpers was postponed because of COVID, and is expected to be administered during the coming months. NYCHA has said that it has had trouble attracting Elevator Mechanic Helpers, which Local 237 President Gregory Floyd believed was because the pay was too low for the position.
Mr. Simmons noted that many of the Helpers were promoted to become Elevator Mechanics, which contributed to the shortage.
“But Laborers can remain in the position permanently. The title is so versatile: one day, we can assist an Elevator Mechanic, then the next day, a Carpenter,” he said.
When asked whether Laborers were unable to do any of the duties performed by Elevator Mechanic Helpers, Mr. Simmons said no.
Mr. Floyd pointed to the 30 days of training given to the HA Laborers, in contrast with the 600 hours of training in the maintenance, repair and installation of elevators, three years of experience maintaining and repairing elevators, and completion of a NYCHA career ladder training program required for Elevator Mechanic Helpers.
“I understand the need to stick up for your members…but they don’t have the training,” Mr. Floyd said. “Him saying that isn’t going to make a difference. Just because you know how to do a little something doesn’t mean you’re proficient.”
Not Used in Private Sector
Mr. Simmons also said that Elevator Mechanic Helpers were not required to assist Elevator Mechanics in the private-sector—instead, apprentices assist the Mechanics.
But Mr. Floyd argued that the way work was done in the private sector “doesn’t absolve” NYCHA for the staffing shortage. He has also taken issue with the fact that the Laborers earned more an hour to do the same work as the Helpers, who are paid $4-$9 an hour below what is typically earned in the private sector. One Mechanic who previously spoke with the Chief cited low morale because of the wage gap.
Mr. Simmons countered that the Helpers were being paid below prevailing wage, “so I commend NYCHA for taking a strong initiative in correcting wage disparities and by hiring the appropriate Laborer title that is more versatile in their needs and also conforms to law.”
It also addressed the problem of the lack of Laborers helping thousands of city skilled-trades workers, he believed. "When I came in, there wasn't a Laborer in NYCHA. Not one," Mr. Simmons said.
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