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Proposed Changes to Housing Authorities Raise Concerns

February 8, 2013

A string of corruption charges levied at the leaders of state housing authorities could lead to legislative changes that will hurt hundreds of lower-level authority employees. That’s according to some of the 150 Local 888 members who work for eight different state housing authorities. Al Zenkus, a shop steward and employee of the Worcester Housing Authority, says that he is particularly concerned about a proposal that could require even long-time authority employees to reapply for their jobs.

“It doesn’t seem right that because of problems at the highest levels, the executive directors and the board members, that the rank-and-file could end up bearing the brunt. We’re talking about people who’ve served their local housing authority for 20, even 30 years,” says Zenkus.

Last month, Governor Patrick unveiled a bill to consolidate public housing management—including budgeting, planning, and administrative functions—into six regional offices, while leaving a corps of managers and maintenance workers at local housing authorities. The six regional authorities would be overseen by nine unpaid board members appointed by the governor. Local boards would be cut, eliminating the need for more than 1,000 local commissioners.

Union leaders say that the proposal raises more questions than it answers, and expressed frustration about the difficulty of getting information about the impact of the changes on housing authority employees. “We’re reaching out to the Governor’s office and the Department of Housing and Community Development for answers but there are so many questions about what this will mean for jobs, collective bargaining and the quality of service members provide to tenants and the public,” saysLisa Field, Local 888 assistant director of field operations.

Zenkus says that he and his members are prepared to take a stand against changes that unfairly punish housing authority workers for problems that they had nothing to do with. “We’ll do whatever it takes.”