Racists win at NYCHA!
Letter from a NYCHA Superintendent
In the mid-1980's, I was a single mother on public assistance with three daughters. My husband had deserted us, and the three of us were living on $85.00 every two weeks. I discovered a program called Nontraditional employment for women, I was sent to New York technical College to learn boiler repair, plumbing, carpentry, steam heat distribution and electrical repairs. Mr. Herman Thomas from New York City Housing Authority Staff Development came to the class and asked if anyone wanted to work for NYCHA. I and another lady were chosen to go for an interview after graduation.
I started working as a Heating Plant Technician (HPT) for the New York City Housing Authority on Feb 6, 1986.
I was assigned to the Manhattanville Houses in Manhattan. I loved working in the boiler-room, working with tools, being responsible for providing heat and hot water for the entire development, doing preventive maintenance and, most of all, getting paid for doing this work that I enjoyed. I had a great job! It was nontraditional but knowledge was the equalizer.
I worked there until 1988, when I transferred to Drew Hamilton Houses to work in the boiler-room. In 1990, I took a transfer to Castle Hill Houses, where I live. While working in the boiler-room at Castle Hill, I was assigned to be the resident call out person for ESS. This did not make some of my co-workers happy, but I had earned it as I never refused to come out at night to make repairs for residents.
The real trouble started when Dan McGarry, the Superintendent, and Ms. Dobbins, the Manager, offered me a promotion to assistant Superintendent for Castle Hill Houses. Seven months after that promotion my time card had "GET OUT YOU NIGGER BITCH" written on it.
One of NYCHA's carpenters' explained the note to me by saying "you're playing with the big boys now." Others told me that I should go back in the boiler-room where I belonged.
I believe that this is when I first came to the attention of The Director, Mr. Elliot Levine.
I explained to Mr. Levine that while I now experienced fear while at work, I had no intention of allowing a few racists to force me out of my job.
Mr. Levine called a meeting of the staff and told them that racial and/or sexual discrimination against employees would not be tolerated.
Mr. Michael Cornelius, Deputy Director of the Bronx, and Mr. Robert Torres along with two female Superintendents, Doris Welch and Sheila White came to my home to assure me that I had everyone's support.
I tried to put the threats out of my mind and just continue to do my job.
On Thursday, November 30th 1995, somewhere between 11:30 AM and Noon a fire was set in front of my apartment door at (address redacted). The police were called and, after investigation, the Fire Marshall classified it as arson.
Shortly thereafter I started receiving harassing phone calls. At first, there were calls asking me to come out on a job for Emergency Services. When I'd arrive at the address, the resident there denied calling ESS. So I was finding myself alone, on dark streets in the middle of the night, knowing that someone had arranged for me to be there. That was disconcerting, to say the least.
There were a number of calls like this, and I suppose I should have ignored them. But I feared that if I didn't rush to the scene, I'd miss a real emergency and that would help the people behind the harassment by giving an excuse to have me dismissed.
I also knew that I wanted my daughters to look to me as a role model, and if I stayed home and a real emergency was occurring, I'd lose that opportunity.
Then the phone calls became vocal abuse and threats.
It soon became apparent to some of my co-workers and myself exactly who were the members of the group of harassers. Their actions and remarks while on the job left little doubt that they were behind the calls. But Dan McGarry, the Superintendent, was a friend of the carpenter and the others, and I believe it was that friendship that allowed them to continue the harassment while not fearing any official disciplinary action.
In 1995, there was a water emergency at Castle Hill Houses. The water tanks were dry, so we had staff on hand twenty-four hours a day until the problem was repaired. Extra help was sent from the Boro office. Gary Cooper, a Heating Plant Technician (HPT) was one of the people sent. From the first day he informed me that he had heard about me, and asked if I didn't think he was sexy!
He proceeded to open his shirt, and make sexual references. Although I informed the Superintendent and I wrote Mr. Cooper a memo about proper dress, nothing was done. Mr. Cooper pranced around like a peacock while making rude remarks.
One weekend an Administrator, Mr. Mc Millian, came to Castle Hill. I was the Asst. Supt. and Mr. Cooper was the HPT that weekend.
Mr. Cooper was working on a motorized pump that was used to pump water up to the roof tanks. Well he was so busy acting disrespectful, silly and showing off that his open shirt got caught in the fan belt and almost tore his arm off.
Mr. Mc Millian and I were standing there watching. We stopped the motor and got Mr. Cooper free from the machine. He glared at me, called me names and just acted like a crazy person.
Mr. Mc Millian told me that I should write-up Mr. Cooper. When I told Dan McGarry about what had happened, he promised me that Mr. Cooper would be sent back to the boro.
Mr. McGarry lied!
After the incident in the boiler-room, my memo to the Director, my visit to the Boro Office and everything else, I still did not leave my job. I needed to support my children, and though the job was becoming a source of much unwarranted stress, I was determined to get through each day.
My resolve was such that I continued to excel at my duties. As a result, on Monday, August 12, 1996, I was promoted to Superintendent for Soundview Houses. I carried that title proudly for five years.
There was a General hearing for Mr. Cooper, which resulted in his dismissal from the Authority. The hearing was held while I was working at Soundview Houses. Irwin Weiss was the lawyer for the Authority.
I felt relief that my charges had been verified by the hearing, and I hoped I could put it all behind me.
During this time, I was also seeing James Cornelius Ph.D. He is the Assistant Director with Employees Assistance Program, and he helped me to see that despite my naïve insistence that I could handle all of the things that were happening at the time, the frequent nightmares, depression, insomnia and a general sense of failure were not a part of my job that I should handle alone. He sent me to Doctor Milton Smith who worked with me until my insurance ran out.
Dr. Smith offered to continue to see me, but I decided to put those problems aside and just go back to work. I also feared that the same racists would somehow use the stress they had caused me as a way to portray me as having "mental problems".
I decided I'd hide my stress and fear and throw myself into my work as a means of ignoring the harassment.
After all that had been done to my family and me, I now realize that there was no way I could ignore the harassment, no matter how hard I worked. But that realization extracted a price.
I am currently out on sick leave. Last month (November), I was found on the floor in my office. I had suffered a major panic attack. I was taken by ambulance to the hospital.
This was not the first time I was taken to the hospital. When I was working in Claremont Consolidated Mr. Lance Zavin, the Manager, found me in the midst of an attack. Mr. Zavin took me to my Doctors office. I was diagnosed as suffering from panic-anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress and depression. I am being successfully treated for this ailment.
For reasons I've mentioned, this condition is not something you want known by your harassers, as it would just encourage them to increase their tactics.
So when I could not attend the annual night out due to my fear of suffering an attack, I tried to avoid any discussion by telling Mr. Porcelli, my Administrator, that my daughter needed me at home that night.
Mr. Porcelli told me that my attendance was mandatory.
I decided to explain about the panic attacks, but Mr. Porcelli would not believe me. (I brought a Doctor's note the next day.) He told me that if I didn't attend, I should demote myself. If not, he said he'd have my Manager Billy Samples bring me up on charges.
I decided I could no longer fight it. The harassers (and arsonists) had won.
I asked if after I accepted a demotion could I be transferred away from those people. I requested reassignment to Manhattan, where my daughters and I might never be threatened again.
I was told I had to stay in the Bronx. And it was apparent that I was now being classified as a "problem employee", despite the fact that my very real problems with physical (arson) and sexual harassment and racism were well documented.
Now I'd not only have a crazy ex-employee (Mr. Cooper) and his racist friends after me, my superiors would be aware that I was not in good graces with Boro.
This is a verifiable and treatable disorder, and it is a legitimate disability. Documentation verifies this. And it occurred while I was on the job. I have made progress with the help of my current physician, Doctor Patal. I am on sick leave without pay for 90 days. I can provide documentation, if needed, from Dr. S.H. Patel, MD, Associated Medical Director, Eastside Comprehensive Medical Center; Dr. Place (HIP Social Worker); Dr. Yokel (Psychologist) and Dr Samparlis (Family Doctor).
All I wish for is not to work in the Bronx ever again. I just want peace. I want to return to work a well person. But this is not possible in the borough of the Bronx. I will surely die, from stress if not from an attack by Mr. Cooper, if I remain
I am not being paid. I have no annual leave left. I do not know what my status is.
I love working at NYCHA, and don't want to have any legal battles over this. All that is needed is a transfer so that I can feel safe while I'm at work and be judged on my performance. Nothing more.
Ms. Haynes has gone for over a month in this limbo, so she authorized the release of her letter.
NYCHA has been aware of Ms. Haynes plight for over a month, yet she is still awaiting word on her status. On December 6, the Chair received a copy of this letter, from me, by certified mail. Yet Ms. Haynes has still not been contacted.
If I were a NYCHA Superintendent, I'd be outraged.
I suggest that if any of you fellow superintendents have stories of other NYCHA outrages that you've withheld out of a sense of loyalty, you now send them to Spotty.
NYCHA should always remember,
loyalty is a two way street.
© 2003 Public Housing Spotlight and John Ballinger. All rights reserved.
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