Elevator Mechanics and their union, Teamsters Local 237, continue to raise safety concerns over the Housing Authority’s decision to assign Laborers to assist Elevator Mechanics due to a shortage of Elevator Mechanic Helpers.
Although NYCHA is budgeted to staff 197 Elevator Mechanic Helpers, who inspect elevator equipment and clean the tops of elevator cars and other work spaces, there were currently 144 on staff.
Hiring Exam Delayed
A civil-service exam for Elevator Mechanic Helpers was supposed to be held this year, but was postponed because of the pandemic, according to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.
“When the city is able to safely resume all civil service exams, DCAS anticipates offering an exam for Elevator Mechanics Helpers,” DCAS spokesman Nick Benson said. NYCHA anticipates that the test will be given during the current fiscal year.
The agency has stated that because it could not find qualified Helpers, 36 Laborers were hired to help the Elevator Mechanics starting in February.
Local 237 raised concerns with NYCHA Chair Gregory Russ about inexperienced Laborers being used in such a dangerous job.
'Unqualified to Do Work'
“If anything happens, the Housing Authority and the city will be liable, and the consequences could be deadly,” Local 237 President Gregory Floyd said Oct. 15. “You’re paying unqualified individuals more money to do the work; it doesn’t make sense.”
He added that the reason NYCHA has had trouble attracting Elevator Mechanic Helpers was because the salary for the title was too low. The Helpers earn about $31 an hour, which was $4-to-$9 an hour below what was typically offered in the private sector.
Elevator Mechanic Helpers undergo a three-year apprenticeship, according to the union. A job advertisement seeking provisional Helpers posted by the city last month, stated that they must have 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.
The Laborers have received 30 days of training, according to NYCHA.
“They’ve been very fortunate nothing has happened,” Mr. Floyd said.
NYCHA spokeswoman Rochel Leah Goldblatt said that “we are currently in progress scheduling interviews to hire provisional Helpers to fill vacancies.”
'Just Makes Job Harder'
One Elevator Mechanic, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Chief that working with the Laborers “just makes the Mechanic’s job harder, when you’re working with people who aren’t trained. These guys, you have to tell them where to stand. They can’t do anything.”
The Mechanic also said that the change has lowered morale.
“The Helpers are mad because the Laborers are there. If you’re established and some hack comes in making more money than you, that creates tension,” the source said.
NYCHA has seen a growing number of elevator-service disruptions, with 44,000 outages in 2018 compared to 38,000 in 2012. The Authority’s aging elevators across 326 developments have made it difficult for elevator repair staff to keep up with the work.
Outages Still Rising
And despite shutdown orders that resulted in residents all across the city spending more time at home, the number of elevator outages at NYCHA between April 1 and June 24 actually grew to 6,830 from 6,784 during that same period last year.
The Federal Monitor appointed to oversee NYCHA’s reforms to eliminate unsafe and unsanitary conditions has identified the low staffing levels within the elevator unit as a barrier to the Authority’s mandate to meet deadlines to improve elevator service. He also stated that the workloads have delayed preventative maintenance that could avert potential future elevator problems.
“We’re chasing our tails everyday,” the Elevator Mechanic said. “All we want to do is provide a service to the residents and work in safe conditions.”
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