SF Tenderloin Housing Clinic workers protest over pay while working for the city’s struggling ORS

As he watched the sea of ​​protesters surrounding the 400 block of Turk Street, Robert Crockett listed some of the horrors he faced during his nearly five years working as a janitor for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic , the largest in the city. operator of single-room hotels.

Until a few months ago the 61-year-old worked for the Baldwin Hotel, which closed in December after years of complaints that the ORS was unsafe and uninhabitable.

He had been told to keep working after he was pricked with a needle in the trash can, he nearly fell down the crumbling stairs, and in March his colleague was stabbed outside the building.

“He was killed,” Crockett said. “He was stabbed (…) in his car, during his lunch break. In fact, he came to help me on a day off.

Dozens of workers like Crockett, who are employed at the nonprofit’s residential hotels across the city, took to the streets on Wednesday morning for an all-day strike calling for higher wages in the face of negotiations extended between the union and THC.

People march past a Tenderloin Housing Clinic office during a strike in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday, July 27, 2022.

Stephen Lam / The Chronicle

Clinic management widely faulted the city for setting salary scales that were too low and pushed back against allegations of squalid or unsafe working conditions on clinic properties.

Workers picketed the buildings of THC and the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, which oversees the city-funded nonprofit. Many office clerks, janitors and case managers who were on strike say they struggle with unsafe working conditions and have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

“The system is at a breaking point,” said Evan Oravec, a THC community organizer and president of his union, SEIU 1021. “Workers are here and not out of frivolous need. We literally cannot continue to do so on these salaries. … I have workers who are behind on their rent.”

Wednesday’s protest was the first time the city has seen a nonprofit Supportive Housing strike over wages and working conditions, but if conditions persist, it won’t be the last, Oravec said.

“We did everything we could,” said THC executive director Randy Shaw, who said he’s been lobbying the city, and specifically MSM, to raise the proposed wage bar. “It’s really the fault of MSM and the town hall. It comes down to their dysfunction.

Protesters picket Turk Street during a strike by Tenderloin Housing Clinic workers in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday, July 27, 2022.

Protesters picket Turk Street during a strike by Tenderloin Housing Clinic workers in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday, July 27, 2022.

Stephen Lam / The Chronicle

An HSH representative said the agency had prioritized ‘pay equity’ in this year’s budget and that Mayor London Breed and the Board of Supervisors had increased funding in the city’s budget this year for non-profit organizations under contract with the city. Employees of city-funded nonprofits will see a 5.25% wage increase, in addition to additional annual funding to increase hourly wages for case managers and other frontline workers working for permanent housing providers.

But THC employees say those wage increases for minimums weren’t enough, especially when given more work due to high turnover rates in buildings.

Jaquel Washington, 39, said she could attest to that. On average, she works 18 hours a day both as a case manager at the Hartland Hotel, where she cares for 75 clients, and as a social worker in Napa County.

Thursdays and Sundays are the only days she can sleep, she said, adding that she was supportive of her daughter, who is enrolled in college.

“It’s hell,” she said. “But it has become a routine, because I have to do it.”

In a San Francisco comptroller report released in May, officials wrote that low salaries for nonprofit service providers have contributed to hiring difficulties and high turnover.

Substance abuse and other mental health issues spiked in residential hotels during the pandemic, at a time when resources were scarce, treatment centers had less capacity and residents became more isolated, employees said. . These factors may have contributed to the deaths that occurred during this period.

Monique Withers, a 52-year-old Oakland resident who works as the sole case manager for the Graystone Hotel, found three dead guests during wellness checks in just one month.

“Before I knock on the door, I take a deep breath and pray that my client is not dead,” said Withers, who added that after finding one of her clients dead, she asked go home, but her boss said she ‘should use her vacation time to do so.

But even despite the grueling working conditions and low pay, Withers says it’s her dedication to her clients that keeps her going.

“I find myself thinking about my clients all the time,” she said as the strikers marched toward City Hall. She was thinking about one tenant in particular, who died in her room shortly after trying to help her stop drinking and take care of himself. He was 54 years old.

“Sometimes I feel like their spirits are with me,” she said.

Annie Vainshtein (her) is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @annievain

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