SCC Housing Authority Employees Balk at Demand to Return to Covid-Exposed Office

As a rank-and-file employee of the Santa Clara County Housing Authority, Anna G. says she’s been forced to go into the office twice a week for the last three weeks.

She comes into the building with her own mask, wipes and sanitizer, and hopes that by the end of the day she doesn’t contract the coronavirus.

“I recognize we have a job to do, but at the end of the day no one should be put in a position where it’s your life or your job,” says Anna, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation from upper management.

Kevin C., a fellow non-management colleague who asked to withhold his name for the same reason, says he’s incredulous that the housing agency has forced its employees to come back into the office twice a week.

“It’s bulls--t,” he says. “Katherine [Harasz, head of the Housing Authority of the County of Santa Clara since 2016] writes these grand emails that she cares about us as employees, but when it comes down to it she doesn't give a crap about us. We’re coming in while she’s sitting at home working.”

San Jose Inside placed a call into Harasz’s office number on Friday morning and was told she was working from home. She had yet to return a message for comment by press time.

However, in emails obtained by this news organization, Harasz tells employees about the phasing-in process to start coming into the office again—even though the county public health order requires employers to keep as many people to work from home as possible.

In one of the notices, Harasz writes: “Unfortunately, the teleworking is taking its toll on coordination of work, communication regarding work and resolution of work issues. In addition to having access to their co-workers, those working at home don’t have access to high functioning office equipment, wet signatures, files and office supplies. Considering this, we have reviewed the teleworking need, building capacity, and overall impact on operations and determined that all staff need to have access to the building on a more regular basis to effectively carry out assigned work.”

Anna and Kevin say the rationale for coming back in is bogus.

Both of the Housing Authority workers says there isn’t a single thing they can do in the office that they couldn’t accomplish from home.

In fact, since the building can’t be close to full capacity due to public health and safety guidelines, Anna says communication with her fellow employees is actually less effective since there are two staggered shifts. Under Harasz’s directive, employees could pick one of two shifts—either 6am to noon or 1 to 7pm.

“I actually have to call people who are not in the building at the same time I am,” Anna remarked in a recent interview. “How does that improve communication when I can make that same call from home?”

says Kevin: “Using infrastructure as a reason for us having to go into the office is a lie.”

Kevin say he’s spoken to people from different departments who agree that non-management employees can work just as effectively from home as they could from the office. After all, he adds, they’ve been working from home for the last four months.

“For Katherine to use any excuse that we can’t get quality work done from home is ridiculous,” he tells San Jose Inside.

If it’s no benefit to come into the office, he wonders, then why are employees being forced into an unnecessary health risk—if not a disaster waiting to happen?

In a Wall Street Journal report, the first wave of Covid-19 lawsuits against companies over worker deaths have begun, even as employers have taken steps to combat the virus, including screening employees and face mask requirements.

Yet Anna says Housing Authority employees aren’t getting screened or their temperature checked before entry into the building—a major red flag if there ever was one.

“No gloves are available, and I saw one bottle of hand sanitizer in the kitchen and another one in the bathroom next to the sink, which absolutely makes zero sense,” she says. “And if you want to get a mask, it’s my impression you have to go down to HR, at which point you’ve touched many things in the building.”

Anna and Kevin say it’s obvious why employees are being forced to go back to the office.

“It’s a control thing ... we’ve always been extremely micromanaged,” Anna says. “Even if you’re an exempt employee, God forbid you’re more than five minutes late for anything, or you’re treated like you’re non-exempt.”

Anna describes a work environment where some employees feel like they’re constantly on pins and needles. “There’s such a controlling factor that goes on here even in regards to going to the bathroom,” she says. “Sometimes I’m thinking, ‘Am I taking too much time here in the bathroom?’ Katherine might think no one is doing their work from home—which couldn’t be further from the truth—so I guess in her mind you shove employees into the building. But that’s stupid because we all know you can waste just as much time in the office on your computer as you can from home if we were actually doing that. It’s a control factor that has always been the case here, but this time it’s dangerous.”

Anna says Harasz has come into the office one time in the last three weeks, and Kevin says he hasn’t seen the executive director much more than that, if at all.

“If I’m a leader of an organization and tell my workers to do something, then I’m going to lead by example and come into the office,” Kevin says. “She can even self-quarantine in her 600-square-foot office, or however big it is. But she isn’t doing that. Why wouldn’t she come in and say, ‘Hey, I’m doing exactly what I’m telling you to do.’”

To compound matters, workers have found few avenues in the way of help. They filed complaints to the county Public Health Department and District Attorney Jeff Rosen—to no avail. A portion of the agency’s workforce are members of SEIU, which asked Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez to push Harasz to switch back the employees to full-time teleworking.

Those pleas, too, fell on deaf ears.

“Cindy came back to the union and said there was nothing she could do,” says Kevin, who expressed tremendous frustration with Chavez. “Her big initiative is getting employees of public agencies and businesses in the area to work from home. My question is if she is the president of the Board of Supervisors who overlooks the housing authority and can’t get this agency to do a simple thing for the safety of our workers, then how is she going to accomplish a grander initiative?”

In an ironic twist, Anna and Kevin say the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD] is giving the local housing agency additional money to create the infrastructure to work from home. “We know for a fact the money is there because it’s specific to the CARES Act,” Anna says. “But where is that money going?”

Adds Kevin: “HUD has put a fund out to get a company’s infrastructure up and working so people can telework, and the housing authority has chosen not to do that.”

According to Anna, the agency sent out an email last last notifying staff that two employees had been exposed to the virus. Anna alerted a co-worker who was in the office the first week but absent the last two. Even though Anna maintained a safe distance from the specific person in question, she says the fact she could’ve been exposed to the virus while the company ostensibly turned a blind eye is downright irresponsible.

“When I raised the possibility that I was exposed to the virus, a couple of managers said I was fine,” Anna says. “They both pushed my concerns aside. It’s common knowledge in the office that more than two people contracted the virus and that many more got exposed. When I tried to get answers, I was told to give up and it was highly suggested that I be quiet. If the county is so big on contact tracing, then why aren’t you telling people you’ve been exposed? It totally defeats the purpose. You have to question Katherine and ask what is the point. If someone dies, was it worth it?”

25 Comments

  1. Great. A Department that shouldn’t exist in the first place, that throws away tax dollars on projects that turn our city into a slum, has pampered, overpaid, whining, complaining,
    unionized fantasyland government job workers who have no clue how easy they’ve got it and are now grumbling and sulking and demanding their “rights”.
    Suck it up do your job and show some gratitude ferchrissake.

  2. > Suck it up do your job and show some gratitude ferchrissake.

    You’re asking the wrong people to show gratitude and for the wrong reason.

    “Gratitude” is NOT a natural human instinct. It is a LEARNED behavior. It is a consequence for being raised in an ethos of civilization where good things are a result of other people’s efforts and good will..

    Progressive societies and institutions based on tribalism presume that good things come from entitlement. “I don’t have to thank anyone for anything. The government owes it to me.”

    And I doubt that many people at the housing authority are motivated to do anything “for Christ’s sake”. Isn’t that a violation of the separation of Church and State?

  3. Wow, incredibly arrogant and self centered article. I work in the mental health field, we are essential workers and have continued to work in the field in a limited capacity since the pandemic started. Many of our responsibilities and duties can be completed remotely. However, there are certain things that just need to be done in person or at the office. We understand the risks but we also understand that we are serving an underserved community that relies on our services to survive. It is part of our job to make sure our clients are taken care of, thats what we do as service providers. The fact that these Government workers are going out of their way to throw upper management under the bus because of their own personal fear, proves that they are not public servants and do not deserve the position they have the privilege to work under. I also receive services from the HOA, to say their services haven’t been impacted by working remotely, is an outright lie. I’ve left my worker multiple messages requesting assistance or resources for certain things, only to never receive a return call or any other type of communication. I believe all essential workers are faced with the same difficult decision during this crazy time in history, we either choose to put ourselves at risk in order to keep our jobs and livelihood, or we give up our posts until a vaccine or more well rounded plan to prevent the virus from spreading is developed, no one can have it both ways right now. Do your job or quit your job, it’s simple.

  4. Sounds like two disgruntled “essential workers” who are whining about staggered shifts a couple times a week. And sounds like they only have to work 6-hour shifts but may get paid to work 8 hours, lol. Is this part of a larger SEIU negotiation effort?

  5. These comments are beyond ridiculous. Typical ultra conservative jump the gun viewpoints. The SCCHA deals with the public day in and day out. The Covid-19 restrictions make it so the public no longer can come to the actual location. These workers don’t need to be at work to do their jobs. Most union workers for the SCCHA go 5 days a week not 2. The work they do could and should be done from home. Workers have already spread Covid-19 to fellow employees unnecessarily because of this forced return to work.

    Again the work they do on a regular pre-Covid basis had them dealing with the public daily at the facility. No public interaction is allowed now, but they are essential workers so they must come to work everyday despite not dealing with the public. Workers giving other workers Covid-19 just because upper management (who doesn’t come into the building mind you) is wrong on so many levels.

  6. We are not complaining about having to go into work. It is the fact that management chose to not inform their workers immediately about the two confirmed covid cases in the workplace. They also not properly sanitizing the work area raising the chances of their catching covid-19. The workers are not only worried about themselves but also their families. Next time learn to read the whole article before jumping to conclusions.
    Btw, non management staff are working 5 days a week.

  7. these are the people you want to hand over all your money, your house, your kids, your personal safety to

    this is what you are protesting for, what you are voting for, and who you pay 50% of your wages to

    you are their slave, they are your masters

    they will own your sons, they will own your daughters

    Proud?

  8. @BTB2020 lol you probably work in upper management how else would you know they work 6hrs but get paid for 8. They also 6hrs with full case load along with covering for workers who are on leave due to covid.

  9. This article is a small glimpse of the agency’s downward spiral. Federal funds being mismanaged by the executive director to line her pockets. Understaffed and underpaid line workers with caseloads over 400+. People keep making comments about ungrateful employees is erroneous and just outrageous. As a person who worked for the HA, I can tell you that most of the employees who go into a Housing Specialist or Housing Assistant role go in thinking they will be part of making a difference in the county housing crisis. However, they soon realize that they are nothing but paper hustlers working through paperwork without being able to really be of assistance to the families in their caseloads. Management only cares about lease up rate and getting annual recertifications complete which ever way to get more HUD funds to give themselves more raises and car allowances. The board of supervisors should really consider auditing the agency’s funds. The exact director should answer to board of supervisors and not some made of board of commissioners that have been assigned by Katherine Harasz herself!

  10. This article is a small glimpse of the agency’s downward spiral. Federal funds being mismanaged by the executive director to line her pockets. Understaffed and underpaid line workers with caseloads over 400+. People keep making comments about ungrateful employees is erroneous and just outrageous. As a person who worked for the HA, I can tell you that most of the employees who go into a Housing Specialist or Housing Assistant role go in thinking they will be part of making a difference in the county’s housing crisis. However, they soon realize that they are nothing but paper hustlers working through paperwork without being able to really be of assistance to the families in their caseloads. Management only cares about lease up rate and getting annual recertifications complete which ever way to get more HUD funds to give themselves more raises and car allowances. The board of supervisors should really consider auditing the agency’s funds. The executive director should answer to board of supervisors and not some made up board of commissioners that have been assigned by Katherine Harasz herself!

  11. You aren’t getting a reply, not because we are working from home, but because we are working two staggered 6-hour shifts. You’d be answered if management would let us work our 9-hour shifts. We are in the office, not at home. We could get more accomplished working 9-hours from home. So please when responding, know what you are talking about.

  12. We are not disgruntled employees, we are employees who are sick of working for a management that writes emails how much they care about us, all the while they are at home. Katherine Harasz as the article says, be a leader and lead from the office, you have an office that is quarantined. We were first told we couldn’t work from home because of Personal Identifiable Information (PII), when we said other Housing Authorities were doing it, they went to Infrastructure, when we told them that was a lie, they went to laptops. When we said get more laptops so we can work 9-hour days and serve our clients they refused. This isn’t about serving our clients to our management, this is all about saving their quarter of a million dollar and up salaries, they have no care for the public only of themselves. The workers spoke to Cindy Chavez, she said she wanted to get businesses and public agencies to work from home and would speak to Katherine Harasz. We got a nothing burger with that one, Cindy said Katherine wouldn’t budge. So you can’t get a public agency that you oversee to do what you want, but you think you’ll get other businesses to follow. Cindy if you want union backing do what you said you’d do, or you won’t get anything from the union workers. Step up and get rid of this, DO NOTHING BOARD, that is in the pocket of Katherine Harasz, they’ve been there to long. Replace the BOARD and maybe something will happen positive for the workers. Katherine if you care about the workers and the public we serve, let us do our jobs9-hours a day from home. Stop with the micromanaging and treat employees like adults!!!

  13. BTB2020 it’s obvious you are either in management or on the Board, the info you know is only known by those I mentioned. We aren’t disgruntled, we are sick of the act by management. Treat employees like adults, let us do our jobs for 9-hours a day from home, as other Housing Authorities are!!!!

  14. John Galt such a terrible think to be whining to work more isn’t it? Really know your facts or keep the trap shut!!!!

  15. I think this article just shows the hypocrisy at the County level – where they say “we should minimize going into buildings with a bunch of other people to manage the spread of Covid-19.” Then, they have County agencies (the County does not technically manage the Housing Authority – but ultimately they have control – and appoint an independent Board to oversee activities) doing the opposite.

    So, I agree with employees that think this new policy is ridiculous, when they can manage their job functions at home. And, it takes one employee getting sick, and spreading it for this to be a larger issue.

    Also, this article speaks to the micro-managing and inflexible culture, that lacks leadership, at this agency. There is a complete lack of trust between leadership and frontline workers – and the fact that the Director mandates people come into the office (even IT, and other workers that can 100% do their job remotely), yet stays at home and works remotely…well, that says it all. She simply does not lead by example, and it has been that way for a long time – that agency doesn’t treat their employees with compassion, and lacks any sort of flexibility. I know, I was there for several years – and left for the same reasons.

    So, I say to the employees – you deserve better – and if things haven’t changed, they never will – and no one will hold this agency accountable…ever. Not the Board, not the County – and certainly not leadership. You should seek other opportunities, at other employers that will treat you with dignity and respect – and view you and your family as humans, not just an object that clocks in and out every-day.

  16. The County and the City need to take over the Housing Authority (HA) ASAP!!! Why is it ok for an Executive Director to sign a contract that if she stays for 10 years will almost pay her a half a million bucks a year? More than the mayor of San Jose and the President of the United States!!!! Come on Board of Supervisors do your job or the people will vote you out. The Board is old and tired at the HA and It is time for change. The upper management we have now needs to be stopped, they run this organization like a dictatorship and not a management that works with its staff or the people they serve. The management team we have now is running this organization into the ground, and you as the Board of Supervisors will be held accountable as well!!!

  17. We were just evacuated out of the building so they could do a deep cleaning, someone tested positive. How long is our Management, the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Supervisors going to allow this? Do your jobs, get the money from the CARES ACT to upgrade your infrastructure and let us work 9-hour days from home. We see all of you and if this keeps going on all responsible will be held accountable. These three entities are being just as irresponsible as the President, step up your game or resign!!!!

  18. I am a social worker, my clients received services from SCCHA. It is very difficult to contact my clients specialists(caseworkers) there. When I do made contact with someone, I am told that there is a change in my clients specialist as the previous specialist is no longer working there or is out off office for a long period. The new specialist said she doesn’t know what is going as she was suddenly force to provide coverage for that empty desk. No files, no update given to her so I had to work with her and provide all documents over again to the new specialist. This delayed my clients housing assistance. I heard their caseload over there is overwhelming. One specialist’s caseload manage 500+ clients, not counting dealing with property owners and other public agencies everyday. One of my client’s specialist shared that she is constantly being forced to cover 3-4 empty desks caseloads in additional to her own caseload. So that is 500 x4 clients all at once. These employees are overworked, overwhelm and under respect. when upper management only care about the money and filling their own pocket, no wonder employees are being unfairly treated. My social work agency is able to adapt and find ways to let our employees work remotely and take extra measure to ensure staffs’ safety. We still are able to protect our clients private information and also able to provide service to our client. So I wonder why SCCHA, a service agency, can’t find way to do the same to ensure the safety of their employees? We are now in an advance technology age and yet SCCHA can’t adapt? Everyone is a community member, employees are community members. SCCHA should learn to first services their employee in a respectful manner.

  19. How is the concept of keeping your staff safe, foreign to this agency? Are we not in Silicon Valley? Twilight Zone thinking! Actions speak louder than words KH. Email manifestos land on deaf ears since you don’t practice what you preach. Are you having cocktails in Capitola?

  20. Is anyone really surprised? This agency has been deteriorating. Not only does it fail to serve the public, it has become increasingly focused on expanding the pockets of top administrators. The executive makes half a million dollars per year. They’ve cut employee events down. They monitor every second of your computer usage, and what more, they don’t allow you to connect your mobile phone to their WiFi. Recently, TWO of their employees caught COVID-19 and they did not notify ANYONE. The first employee was gone for a few days, but they kept it hush. When the rest of the employees found out, they said it was “probably” already dealt with since he was not in the office for a while when they sent him home. After complaints, employees were sent home after the second person caught COVID, but they were then told to return to their desks the next day, after a few hours of cleaning. They do not have transparency for workers nor the public. I’ve known new employees who clocked in at 9am and decided to quit before 5pm. This department has an extreme case of mismanagement.

  21. This agency is lining the pockets of the executive level employees and filing their pensions and future medical costs. It’s the only public agency where positions are arbitrarily created at the top to promote their own. Executive Director has an iron grip on the BOC which the ED describes as unintelligent and often directs staff to water down reports so it’s on BOC’s level of understanding. Listen to some of the BOC meetings and see the way the ED talks down to the BOC. It really shows her lack of social and professional tact. What you are reading here from the employees in the article and the reviews on sites like Glassdoor are not lies or from disgruntled workers, they’re real experiences.

  22. This article just kinda ends…lots of ranting and then, it’s over! Why don’t the employees address the BOC directly about all the issues? The meetings are public right? Why not show up and speak their minds? Retaliation is a fear but it’s also illegal so what are they worried about? Why not write letters to the BOC? It seems like the employees just want to rant and rave but aren’t really doing anything about the situation which seems to be the Exec Director. It’s very easy to rise up especially if it’s a union environment. She can’t have that much power as a public officer.

  23. Nativeman trust me we have risen and spoke to the BOC, they do nothing except what Katherine tells them. Staff has also written several letters to the BOC and they do nothing. We have went to the County Board of Supervisors and again nothing. Do you have any suggestions? We have tried them all!!!!

  24. TALKCRAP
    Wow…I don’t know any other way but to call out the Director directly and letting her know what’s on your minds. It may be the only way…the only way left! Sounds like she has a stranglehold in the housing authority.

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