Before public-housing residents experienced severe problems with heat and hot water this winter, the New York City Housing Authority had lost almost one-third of its heating-maintenance workers through attrition.
“The place is significantly understaffed,” Kevin Norman, housing director of Teamsters Local 237, which represents NYCHA’s boiler-room workers, told LaborPress in February. In the winter of 2012-13, he said, the authority had 370 heating plant technicians covering its 326 developments and 2,462 buildings. Attrition has reduced that number by almost one-third, he says, to 256—and that includes 12 workers added in January.
NYCHA estimated in early February that 80 percent of its more than 400,000 residents had gone without heat or hot water at least once this winter. Some reported going without heat for as long as two weeks straight, particularly in the January cold wave.
After decades of cuts in funding from the federal and state governments, Norman said, NYCHA’s financial problems are “more real than folks know.” But he added that the authority has resisted working with the union to hire more heating-plant workers.
“There’s no such thing as ‘doing more with less,’” he averred. That’s an “inspirational” slogan, he explained, but to keep heating systems functioning properly, you need enough workers to monitor boilers constantly and inspect pipes continually.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been attacking Mayor Bill de Blasio over public housing’s heat problems, said Mar. 7 that he is considering declaring an emergency. The next day, the mayor announced plans to accelerate the process of replacing NYCHA’s boilers, some of which are more than 60 years old. That would mean the repairs would be completed a year or so before the current target date of 2022.