NYCHA paint crew boss claims he’s ‘not essential’ worker during coronavirus crisis, gets docked pay over dispute

NYCHA's Jefferson Houses in Harlem.
NYCHA's Jefferson Houses in Harlem.

He’s got three months left till retirement, but Bobby Wolkowitz worries he won’t make it.
Wolkowitz, 60, of Fresh Meadows, Queens, has been working at the New York City Housing Authority as a painter and a painters’ supervisor for more than 27 years, and is deemed an essential employee under the state’s coronavirus policies.
But Wolkowitz believes the work he and others in his position do is not essential and that it’s reckless to have them going into crowded apartments to paint.
“I understand if you have a gas leak or a water problem — that’s an emergency,” he said. “It’s not necessary to send skilled trade workers into apartments that are full.”
With his retirement close at hand, Wolkowitz has 130 days off that he can take. NYCHA has been allowing him to take those days in three-week increments, with one week of work in between each chunk of off-time.
Bobby Wolkowitz, a NYCHA painter supervisor.
Bobby Wolkowitz, a NYCHA painter supervisor. (Obtained by NY Daily News)
Wolkowitz said he’s been reporting to the offices at the Jefferson and East River developments in Harlem, works for a few hours and then leaves when the job at hand is done — even though he’s required to be present for a full day.
He described working in crowded offices where some colleagues wear masks and others don’t.
“I told them I would come in and work the couple of hours that I needed and then go home,” he said. “They decided to be tough and dock me.”
Wolkowitz estimates he’s been docked $750 pay for about 16 hours of work.
“It’s not about the money,” he said. “It’s about the principle.”

NYCHA has taken a different view of the matter — essentially, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

“NYCHA’s more than 9,000 essential staff members are true heroes for showing up to our developments every day and serving our residents," said Housing Authority spokeswoman Barbara Brancaccio. “If Mr. Wolkowitz feels he can no longer serve New York City, he has many options available to him through NYCHA’s Human Resources time and leave, health, and other policies that he has earned during his tenure.

“We thank him for his service,” she added.

Wolkowitz said the response is a dodge.

“That doesn’t answer the situation,” he said. “It doesn’t address the common sense approach.”

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