What to Know
- NYC’s public housing agency has been criticized for spending too much on overtime; But series of lawsuits contends NYCHA stiffed workers
- In last three years, NYCHA has shelled out more than $5.5 million to settle claims with workers who say they were shortchanged on overtime
- In settling the lawsuits, NYCHA admitted no wrongdoing
New York City’s troubled public housing agency has been criticized for spending too much on overtime. But a series of lawsuits contends NYCHA has stiffed its own workers by not paying enough.
In the last three years, NYCHA has shelled out more than $5.5 million to settle claims with maintenance workers, exterminators, community coordinators and caretakers – all of whom say they were shortchanged on overtime when they punched in early, punched out late, or worked through lunch breaks. Most of the alleged wage violations involved NYCHA workers not being paid when they come in early or leave late - in order to put on and take off uniforms, organize supplies, or do other preparatory tasks.
“A lot of these tasks, particularly the uniform requirement had to be done on premises” said Hope Pordy, an attorney who represented the workers against NYCHA.
Pordy suggested there are a number of ways NYCHA might have prevented the lawsuits, including better communication with workers, and better management of the digital software that tracks when workers punch in and out.
“If people are coming into work early and they’re not supposed to be they can set up their time system such that you can’t punch in before your start time,” Pordy said. “They also can go about trying to discipline or counsel employees who are continually coming in early.”
In settling the lawsuits, NYCHA admitted no wrongdoing. In an email to the I-Team the agency also denied having a previous policy against workers wearing uniforms while they commute.
But a letter filed in support of the settlement with NYCHA exterminators seemed to contradict that account.
In the letter, which was submitted on behalf of both NYCHA and the Plaintiffs, attorneys wrote, “. . .the likelihood of recurrence of the violations is low given that NYCHA has begun to make changes to its practices including allowing the Exterminators to now commute in their uniforms and placing burdens on supervisors to prevent unwanted overtime work.”
Vito Mustaciuolo, the NYCHA General Manager, did not address that seeming contradiction, but he did say the housing agency has improved its tracking of wages, including using a new electronic process for the approval and monitoring of overtime.
“NYCHA has made significant improvements in strengthening accountability and transparency,” Mustaciuolo wrote in an email to the I-Team. “Our goal is to improve productivity and deliver the highest level of service to our residents and we will use all tools at our disposal, including overtime.”
Council Member Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx), whose mother lives in the Throggs Neck Houses, said the millions in legal settlements prove NYCHA has far more work to do.
“NYCHA’s mismanagement of overtime has cost the city and the residents of public housing millions of dollars in settlements. Those are millions of dollars that have been spent on boilers, elevators, bricks, roofs,” Torres said.
This week, Torres expects City Council to pass his bill requiring NYCHA to report each housing development’s overtime bill to the city’s Department of Investigation.