Janet Douglass, former volunteer and board member, current Joseph’s House and Shelter’s Volunteer Coordinator, and an organizing committee member, said, ” I am happy to stand with my coworkers as we join together to form a union with SEIU. We have requested voluntary recognition of our union, and hope thereby to improve conditions for the benefit of not only the staff, but for the benefit of our community’s most vulnerable and overlooked. They remain the focus of all we do.”
Joseph’s House and Shelter provides emergency shelter and support services to nearly 2,000 individuals and families experiencing homelessnesss annually. Since its founding in 1983, the mission of Joseph’s House “is to provide non-judgmental services to end homelessness” and to treat each of its guests and tenants “with dignity and respect, and [promote] self-determination” that empowers those guests and tenants. Approximately 75 employees work in the agency’s various programs across Rensselaer and Albany Counties, providing emergency shelter, street outreach, and support services to people currently experiencing homelessness and those who were formerly homeless.
The announcement follows weeks of organizing conversations across the agency. Workers at Joseph’s House, several of whom are themselves formerly homeless, cited various workplace issues, including understaffing, high turnover, lack of professional development and training, and low pay that they hope to address through collective bargaining. They requested voluntary recognition of their union from O’Connor and the Joseph’s House Board of Directors, highlighting it as completely in alignment with the agency’s mission.
Klarisse Torriente, the Diversion Program Manager and organizing committee member, said, “The humans who work at Joseph’s House walk in solidarity with the humans we serve. It is a privilege to work alongside them to provide critical services to our guests and tenants. Without our hard work, this agency would simply not be able to function. I hope the management of Joseph’s House will recognize our union so we can quickly get to the bargaining to negotiate improvements in our workplace.”
Various faith and labor leaders from Rensselaer and Albany Counties joined the delegation of workers in their letter delivery. They called on Executive Director O’Connor and the Board of Directors to immediately recognize the workers’ union with SEIU Local 200United without delay, so that they can get back to providing vital support for our community’s most vulnerable individuals and begin discussions to make necessary improvements in their workplace.
Adam Pelletier, President of the Troy Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO, said, “On behalf of the Troy Area Labor Council, I urge Executive Director Kevin O’Connor to voluntarily recognize that the majority of Joseph’s House want to form their own union. The Joseph’s House website indicates that they carry out their duties by ‘treating each person with dignity and respect, and promoting self-determination… to make healthier choices.’ We call upon Mr. O’Connor to apply this same principle to the workers. Workers forming their own unions is one of the healthiest choices workers can make.”
**Reverend Ibrahím Pedriñán, President of the Albany County Central Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO,**said, "The Albany County Central Federation of Labor represents workers who have ‘built relationships’ with each other and unionized in the spirit of ‘promoting self-determination,’ just like Joseph’s House workers. The Labor Council urges the Joseph’s House Board and Executive Director O’Connor to voluntarily recognize the workers’ God-given right to organize a union.”
Mark Emanatian, Field Coordinator for the Capital District Area Labor Federation, said, “The 120,000 members of the Capital District Area Labor Federation stand 100% behind our sisters and brothers seeking union recognition at Joseph’s House. Unionization would mean a better workplace and a happier workforce. The workers at Joseph’s House seek dignity and a voice.”
The delegation asked that the executive director provide a response to their letter no later than May 31, 2022.