officers send out SOS
at Columbus Circle
Homeless shelter security officers are calling for the immediate passing of
the SOS Act.
BY DEAN MOSES
As the city moves out of the COVID
19 pandemic, essential security
workers who toiled throughout
the invisible war at homeless shelters demanded
on May 18 better treatment going
forward in a post-pandemic world.
Members of the 32BJ union assembled
at Columbus Circle, outside the entrance to
Central Park, on May 18, holding signs that
literally signaled for an SOS — the name of
a new act that looks to protect the rights of
security offi cers protecting the vulnerable.
The Safety in Our Shelters Act (SOS) aims
to improve wages and training for security
offi cers working within non-profi t homeless
New York City Council Speaker Corey
Johnson, and City Council Members Francisco
Moya and Diana Ayala, joined 32BJ
Vice President John Santos at Tuesday’s
rally to bring awareness to the need for
shelters to have greater standards for their
Homeless shelter security offi cers, who
work for private shelter operators, are on
the front lines serving an at risk population,
and yet they say their employers have left
them without meaningful access to health
insurance or adequate training; they also
earn up to $7,000/year less than those who
work directly for the city.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,
these workers say they struggled to sustain
themselves, with some even winding
up seeking a homeless shelter themselves
while they work security for low wages at
PHOTO BY DEAN MOSES
Shaquille Sheppard is a homeless shelter
security offi cer in Queens, and he loves that
he is able to work at a facility that helps
individuals from all walks of life. He knows
fi rst hand what it feels like to not have a
home since he grew up in a homeless shelter
with his mother.
“It was not an easy time,” Sheppard
said, describing his experience growing up
within a shelter, adding, “We were lucky
to fi nd a Section 8 apartment and move
out of the system. But now I am under the
constant fear that I am going to become
homeless again at any minute. That’s because
shelter security jobs are poverty jobs.
We are supposed to be the ones who are
protecting the shelter clients, but as offi cers
we are only a few steps away from being in
Sheppard is one of many shelter security
offi cers who say they can barely afford rent
with the wages they earn, and health insurance
is completely unaffordable.
The fi rst part of the SOC Act, Intro.
2006-2020, focuses on increasing security
guard’s wages to industry standards with
benefi ts while they work at city-constructed
homeless shelters. The second part of the
legislation, Int. 1995-2020, ensures security
offi cers receive adequate training.
“Are we going to pass the SOS Act?
Are we going to make sure workers like
Shaquille get what they deserve?” asked
32BJ Vice President John Santos. “We are
gathered here today because security offi
cers at private shelters are saying SOS!
They are demanding action and demanding
help because essential workers have been
overlooked for too long.”
Attack in Colombia
and Myanmar Crises
By Stuart Appelbaum, President
Retail, Wholesale and Department
Store Union, UFCW
This has been a brutal year for workers and
activists in Colombia and Myanmar, where
ongoing protests and labor strikes against
repressive regimes have been met with astounding
bloodshed. These attacks on workers and unions abroad need our attention
here in the U.S.; these courageous protestors are not only standing up for all
working people, but for all who hold pro-democratic ideals.
In Colombia, protests have raged for weeks after a now-canceled
proposal that would have expanded taxes on basic groceries such as bread
and eggs while also increasing taxes on many middle-class Colombians. In
late April, a national strike organized by a coalition of unions brought
thousands of protesters into the streets of Colombian cities. While the tax
plan has now been canceled, tens of thousands of people have joined the
movement, speaking out against the brutal repression of protestors and
calling for economic support for the pandemic-ravaged public. As the actions
entered their third week, dozens of protestors have been killed and over 900
injured in violent police actions.
The situation in Myanmar — where a military coup overthrew the elected
government and halted a decade of ongoing democratic reforms — is even
worse. As the country reached 100 days in early May since the February 1
military coup, the death toll for protestors stood at almost 800 civilians, while
almost 4,000 have been detained. It’s a human rights, economic, and
humanitarian crisis that has grown daily since the military junta overthrew the
elected government in Myanmar, and there is no end in sight. With an
economy in tatters and rising inflation and hunger, and anger growing over
the violent and brutal junta response to protests, experts fear a full-scale civil
war is brewing.
Workers and unions have been under assault in Myanmar since the start
of the crisis, with the junta declaring most of the country’s labor
organizations “illegal.” Myanmar’s garment workers were among the first to
take to the streets against the military junta, and they were quickly joined by
other workers including medical workers, teachers, utility workers, and
others. They were met with arrests and violence.
In early May, more than 11,000 academics and other university staff
were suspended after going on strike in protest against military rule,
endangering education institutions and bringing a fresh round of protests.
America’s labor movement stands firmly behind the protesters in
Colombia and Myanmar, and calls for the U.S. government to forcefully
condemn the violence and support the courageous workers, unions,
students, and civil society and democracy activists who are the backbone of
these social movements in these countries. America’s unions have called
upon international companies operating in Myanmar to demand the
immediate reinstatement of democracy and release of political prisoners.
In Myanmar, labor leaders and activists have said international solidarity
matters; the international support they’ve seen has helped
keep their spirits up as they fight back against the
oppressive military junta. Attacks on workers and
unions anywhere is an attack on all workers, and we
will continue to use our collective voice to support
those who are fighting for reform, human rights,
and justice across the globe.
12 May 20, 2021 Schneps Media