AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Hundreds of corrections officers and people who are incarcerated in New York City jails have been infected with the coronavirus. With people living in such close quarters in these jails and officers facing a scarcity of protective gear and cleaning supplies, transmission has been swift. The union representing corrections officers sued the Department of Corrections, arguing it has failed to protect the officers working in city jails. The president of that union is Elias Husamudeen. He joins us now.
ELIAS HUSAMUDEEN: Welcome. Good morning - good afternoon, actually. I'm sorry.
CHANG: Thank you. So what specifically are you asking for in this lawsuit? What do you want to see changed?
HUSAMUDEEN: Well, a few things I'm asking for. The first thing we're asking for is we're asking for the city of New York and the Department of Corrections to establish a testing site on Rikers Island. Currently, as of yesterday, we have a total of 454 confirmed cases. That's including inmates, civilians and correction officers. And, you know, we have this confined population of people that...
HUSAMUDEEN: ...If this thing is not handled correctly could really be devastating - never mind just Rikers Island, but it could be devastating for the city of New York if you have 5,000 inmates and 10,000 correction officers and 2,300 civilians affected by this disease.
CHANG: OK. Anything else that your lawsuit calls for besides a testing site at Rikers?
HUSAMUDEEN: Yes. The other thing that we're calling for is the Department of Corrections is not doing a good job of sanitizing, of providing correction officers with PPE, with masks, with gloves, with hand sanitizers, going - just going through the thing that other agencies and other people...
HUSAMUDEEN: ...All over the country are doing. And they're not doing a good job at all. So we filed a lawsuit.
CHANG: And how many of your union members have been infected so far?
HUSAMUDEEN: Well, currently, according to the department, it's a little over 200 - a little over 200 workers.
CHANG: Out of how many members?
HUSAMUDEEN: I have approximately about 10,000 members.
HUSAMUDEEN: So right now, there's about 223, but that's not just correction officers. That's also civilians. We have civilians that work in the jail, and they, too, like us, you know, are essential. And they have to come to work. They can't work from home.
CHANG: Now, if...
HUSAMUDEEN: So with this lawsuit - I'm sorry. With this lawsuit, we're hoping that the judge can maybe, you know, talk some sense into the mayor or to the commissioner of the agency who haven't even established a task force. Other agencies - the police department, everybody else - have established a task force to deal with this COVID-19. And the New York City Department of Correction commissioner says she doesn't have the resources or the staffing to do it, which is insane.
CHANG: Let me ask you this. I mean, obviously, you're concerned about your union members. But what about the inmates? Do you think that the inmates are actually in less safe conditions than even the officers are?
HUSAMUDEEN: Well, in this particular incident, I'm not just concerned about correction officers because if the inmates are sick, we're sick. When the inmates are living in squalor, we're living in squalor. So this here, this concern, it goes beyond inmates. It goes beyond correctional officers and civilians.
HUSAMUDEEN: This is a situation where we all have to be protected. Even the inmates need personal protection, things of that nature, and even the inmates need cleaning supplies. They don't have it as well as the correction officers don't have it.
CHANG: Elias Husamudeen is president of New York City's Correction Officers' Benevolent Association.
Thank you very much for joining us today.
HUSAMUDEEN: Thank you. I appreciate it.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.